Community spirit fuels thriving convenience store
“There’s some value to be found here at the convenience store,” said local entrepreneur Lonnie McQuirter, owner and director of operations of the 36th & Lyn Refuel Station. The independent, community-oriented, and Black-owned business is in South Minneapolis on the northeast corner of 36th Street and Lyndale Avenue, as the name implies.
Upon arriving at the store, customers will find surprisingly affordable BP gasoline, a charging station for electric vehicles, and an array of local products. There are healthy food options available, too, ranging from fresh bananas to organic beverages.
The popular BP fuel seems to be the least expensive in Minneapolis, based upon various online customer reviews. Customers often wait patiently to refuel or recharge their vehicles and save money in the long run.
“You’re going to keep more money in your pocket by coming here,” McQuirter said. He added, “From an economic standpoint—you’re going to be saving at least $350 a year.” The good news must have spread fast because there has been a consistent flow of business.
The 36th & Lyn Refuel Station launched in June 2005. McQuirter said, “My dad is involved in the business from a financial standpoint, but in terms of the day-to-day [operations], it’s always been me here.”
McQuirter placed an emphasis on his father’s positive influence and outstanding work ethic. “He’s been an entrepreneur since the early ’80s; he did commercial cleaning and had a pretty large number of contracts. So, entrepreneurship has always been in the family,” he said. He added, “When you’re not working, you’re not eating, and my dad instilled that.”
In 2014, McQuirter began operating the store on wind energy. “We got a nice rebate on our electric bill. At least six years we have been doing that—What we operate on in our store is 100% wind-sourced energy,” McQuirter said. The money he saves is invested into the business to improve the property.
The 36th & Lyn Refuel Station also hosted an event for electric vehicles that gained attention from the “Guinness Book of World Records.” “In 2014, we made the world record of charging 85 cars—unofficially 100—technically, 85 vehicles here in 24 hours’ time. We broke the world record right now,” McQuirter said.
In 2015, the Clean Energy Resource Team (CERT) in Minnesota helped 36th & Lyn Refuel Station become more energy efficient. The CERT organization assisted with the installation of bright LED canopy lighting. The new lighting has illuminated the business and improved the overall curb appeal of the store.
When customers check out the local convenience store, they’ll notice a wide variety of local products. McQuirter established local partnerships with AfroDeli, Big Watt Coffee, Cry Baby Craig Hot Sauce, Sebastian Joe’s and many more brands.
Customers also have an opportunity to order delicious food from the Cafe Ena food truck, from Tuesday to Saturday, 10:30 am to 9 pm. The menu offers a tasty medley of “Latin American flavors blended with French technique,” according to the website.
Although business is flourishing, there have been trials and tribulations along the way. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused their business to focus on keeping everyone safe. McQuirter and his team work nonstop to ensure the place is spotless and sanitized.
“Everyone has been affected by this global pandemic,” McQuirter said. As a result, he uses “hospital-grade disinfectant” to clean the store. Everyone is expected to follow COVID-19 safety protocol by wearing masks, social distancing, and utilizing hand sanitizer.
McQuirter shared insight into the convenience business industry that may be helpful to aspiring and existing business owners. “I’ve seen some people squeezed out of business because they went and spent too much money.” In essence, he emphasized the significance of minimizing costs and focusing on the needs of all customers.
Customer satisfaction is a top priority at 36th & Lyn Refuel Station. McQuirter said, “It’s really about paying attention to what the customer wants and identifying with them.” The consumer-centered approach has helped contribute to success and longevity in business.
McQuirter also placed an emphasis on Black buying power. “In terms of our community—we can build wealth a lot faster if we support people that support us,” he said. He also encourages individuals to shop at places that value and respect them. “People don’t have to come here and I’m grateful for that.”
He added, “Go support the people who support you and are looking to see you do better. Just get started—right now you can drive around the area and see so much opportunity. Like right now if I had more time, I’d start a power-washing business.”
The 36th & Lyn Refuel Station is located at 3551 Lyndale Avenue in South Minneapolis. The store hours are Monday through Sunday, from 6 am to midnight. For more info, visit www.36lyn.com.