CStore Decisions is recognizing two convenience store chains for excellence in design. The Best Store Design Award winners are Dandy Mini Marts for its Wysox, Pa., c-store in the restored Piollet Mansion, and R.H. Foster’s Freshies concept, which it seamlessly carries across a range of new-to-industry stores and legacy footprints. On the pages that follow, we detail the winning designs.
WINNER: Dandy Mini Marts for Wysox Dandy c-store and the revitalization of Piollet Mansion.
It’s not every day a company builds a convenience store in a century-old mansion, but in 2019, Sayre, Pa.-based Dandy Mini Marts put its design acumen to the test with an aggressive mansion restoration project.
CStore Decisions is recognizing Dandy Mini Marts with a “Best Store Design Award” designation for this historic revitalization of the 150-year-old Piollet Mansion in Wysox, Pa., which now houses its Wysox convenience store. The c-store opened to the public in March 2019, melding modern touches with local history. The renovation of the original mansion structure was completed in time for a grand re-opening celebration on Oct. 26.
“The revitalization of the Piollet Mansion and the Wysox Dandy is one of the proudest moments we’ve had as a company,” said Dandy President Randy Williams during the grand re-opening event. “Our team worked with an incredible group of partners and contractors to painstakingly renovate this building to the highest level.”
Victor Piollet originally built the Piollet Family Mansion in 1872, and it housed the Piollet family until the 1930s. The Piollet family played a key role in politics, the railroad and Bradford County’s early development. In the years that followed, a local veterinarian purchased the facility; then Fulmer’s Shopping Center, and later, the Wysox General Store. The mansion’s exterior still features the original painted name for posterity, explained Bill Bustin, marketing director of Dandy Mini Marts Inc., which operates 65 c-stores in Pennsylvania and New York. The building also endured periods of degradation and abandonment when it wasn’t being operated as a business.
Enter Dandy Mini Marts, which recognized an opportunity to restore the old building and use it to house a modern convenience store.
“The driving force behind the design, and the entire project as a whole, was to simply be a good steward for the local community,” Bustin said. “Dandy prioritized the connection that generations of residents and travelers in the Wysox and Towanda area had with this building. We relied on local craftsmen and partners who brought this building back to life because they deeply cared for the project, working long hours and paying the finest attention to detail.”
As part of the redesign, Dandy constructed an addition to the original building, which now holds most of the new Dandy Mini Mart, including its kitchen, coolers and shelves. The beer cave, seating area, store offices and restrooms are located in what would have been the original Piollet Mansion.
The Wysox Dandy features a specialty drink program with hot and iced made-to-order lattes, macchiatos and cappuccinos, along with frozen beverages like frappes, mochas and smoothies. It also features bean-to-cup coffee dispensers. Foodservice plays a big role, with help from a panini press and a four-foot flat-top grill for cooking cheesesteaks and burgers.
“We have also included two clusters of self-
ordering kiosks and three digital display screens
that broadcast our menu and food promotions in
the store,” Bustin said.
The building includes an atrium room with an open view above that extends straight to the windowed cupola beyond the fourth floor. “That was actually the original design,” Bustin said. “At some point in the 20th century, floor joists and plywood flooring were added to the two floors above the atrium room, which Dandy then removed to restore the soaring atrium to its original state.”
The atrium is open to the public and serves as a Piollet family museum with dozens of photos, news articles and framed portraits. The Bradford County Historical Society assisted with the restoration.
“The Bradford County Historical Society worked with our team to identify and digitally scan more than 100 images of the Piollet Mansion and turn-of-the-century Towanda and Wysox, Pa., from the society’s archives,” Bustin said. “These images were used for a multitude of purposes, including large-format framed portraits that are hung above the coolers in the modern convenience store, smaller images that are framed and hung in our atrium room, and as postcards available for purchase at the store — of which a portion of the sales will be donated back to the historical society.”
Dandy also removed multiple floors outside the atrium room in what used to be a foyer that had two grand staircases on either side. It added a dining area with seating for guests that’s open above — all the way to the ceiling of the fourth floor. After removing the staircases, the header beams that supported those staircases were repurposed to create a 15-foot bar in the dining area.
The building received energy-efficient upgrades, including new windows. Dandy also worked to preserve elements from the original mansion, including restoring original doorway moldings, exposing more original interior brick and adding new walls with original exterior brick. It also restored sections of original wainscoting, multiple doors, and door and window casings. Flooring from the second floor was repurposed into signage in the c-store, most notably above the beer cave.
At press time, Dandy was still finishing the Community Room on the first floor, which will be available to local community organizations, government agencies and school groups to reserve time to host meetings or events.
“The Dandy team and its partners took ownership of a significant piece of local history to create a beautiful, welcoming environment, and we’re proud that it’s now a symbol of historic restoration and modern use,” Bustin said.
WINNER: R.H. Foster’s for Freshies
What began as a proprietary deli program developed into a convenience store banner and branding strategy for Hampden, Maine-based R.H. Foster’s Freshies.
CStore Decisions is recognizing Freshies for excellence in design for its Freshies c-store concept and the way it implements the design across a range of legacy footprints and new builds, while maintaining consistency by staying true to core elements.
Where it all Began
It all started in 2003 in Maine. R.H. Foster observed the headwinds in the c-store industry at the time, such as dwindling tobacco sales and declining fuel margins, and recognized that it needed to be forward-thinking to maximize its future success. It identified an opportunity to grow sales by building a fresh-and-healthy proprietary deli program at its On the Run convenience stores, said Brenda Gerow, executive manager, for R.H. Foster.
In 2004, the chain launched Freshies deli, which it rolled out across its fleet of On the Run stores. At the time, the deli area of each store and the c-store section featured completely different looks. Over time, R.H. Foster sought a cohesive design for its locations.
R.H. Foster partnered with design firm Paragon Solutions in 2014 and began discussing how to pull the Freshies concept across the entire store. The challenge was considerable given that the chain operated a range of legacy locations in various shapes and sizes. The move meant a combination of raze and rebuilds, extensive renovations and light refreshes, depending on location.
In 2015, R.H. Foster rebranded its convenience stores as Freshies and began converting all locations to the new banner and design. Today, Freshies operates 16 locations with a goal of expansion in the near future.
At Freshies delis, food is all made fresh daily on-site. R.H. Foster committed to tying fresh and healthy food — a key passion and focus for the brand — into each element of the Freshies convenience store design, including the color scheme.
“We recognized that food was the way of the future, and we wanted Freshies to be meaningfully unique,” Gerow said.
A New-Build in Ellsworth
Freshies new builds typically span 5,000-6,500 square feet. The bigger stores feature larger restrooms, more gondolas and cooler doors and new big beer caves compared to smaller locations. Some legacy sites received beer caves during the remodel, and a second restroom, if they previously only had one.
Freshies’ Ellsworth c-store location opened in 2016 and stands out at 5,000 square feet with high ceilings, upscale restrooms featuring touchfree fixtures, and open-air cooler cases featuring freshly made salads and sandwiches prepared on-site. Upscale food offerings include items such as an avocado-bacon-ranch or caprese salads. Fresh-prepared pizza and salads are also available made
A Legacy Conversion in Newport
Meanwhile, the chain’s Newport location, a legacy location, underwent a renovation in 2019, reopening to the public last May. Given that the store itself only spanned 2,800 square feet, Freshies had several challenges to overcome in creating the Newport version of the design.
“It’s a feat,” Gerow noted, “taking a design like Freshies and implementing it into a small footprint and keeping all the key branding elements from the open-air cooler case to the made-to-order salad area where customers can watch their salads being made fresh, and all the design signals that say ‘fresh and healthy’ to customers.”
But creating brand standards helped Freshies ensure each store provided continuity when it came to major branding elements. “It may be a smaller version, but it’s there. All the colors are there. All the branding is there,” Gerow said.
One challenge was ensuring it could include all necessary equipment in the smaller footprint. The chain worked with its open-air cooler case designer to create a custom-sized version to fit the location.
The Newport store’s exterior looks similar to other stores in terms of colors, siding and branding elements, though it does not feature exterior stonework like the larger Ellsworth location.
All Freshies store exteriors feature a green color and red gooseneck lighting. In Newport, that green color is found in the awning, while in Ellsworth, it appears as a green band at the top of the tower. All stores also feature Freshies’ tomato watermark. At the Ellsworth location, it appears on a flat angled panel, while in Newport, it’s on the awning.
Today, when customers walk into a Freshies, the c-store section features a red-and-blue color scheme, and the foodservice section attracts with green — which conveys ‘fresh and healthy,’ and yellow to signal ‘high energy,’ but the entire site offers a cohesive look.
“We made sure all the pieces (of the design) came with us,” Gerow said. “They might have just been displayed in a different way.”