When I was a kid, we traveled back and forth from Texas City to Longview quite a bit to see my grandparents. It was the early to mid 1970s, and I always wanted to stop at one of the Stuckey’s that dotted parts of U.S. 59 as well as many highways in the South.
My mom, who did the driving because of my father’s illness, refused to go because she didn’t want to have a battle with her children over the thousands of tchotchkes, sweets, and knickknacks that we would want and beg her to buy. (And to be honest, she probably would have had the same battle with my dad, too.)
Now that I’m an adult and a parent, I get it. But I still have a thing for these places and have wondered how they’ve managed to survive all these years. (Buckee’s, the supersized stores that have popped up all over Texas, feel like Stuckey’s on steroids, but they don’t have the same dated charm.)
The company started in the early 1930s as a lean-to roadside shed in Eastman, Ga., as a way for founder W.S. Stuckey Sr. to sell his pecans. According to a history of the company, Florida-bound tourists on U.S. Route 23 stopped to buy the pecans, and Stuckey’s wife Ethel created a number of homemade candies to sell at the stand.
As travel on the nation’s highways became popular post-World War II, Stuckey’s expanded, eventually growing to more than 350 franchises across the nation. They frequently were paired with gas stations, restaurants, and nice clean restrooms.
By the late 1970s, the company had declined to more fewer than 75 stores, but it has slowly grown back to just over 100 franchises.
Earlier this week, I drove to South Carolina to work on a freelance feature story and saw a Stuckey’s on Interstate 95. While this little franchise was dwarfed by places like South of the Border, the familiar gas pumps and Dairy Queen were still inside. And the bathrooms were pretty clean too.