It’s a project that’s been six-years in the making. Now, Lusk residents are getting their first look at the new face of their local Fresh Start Convenience Store. Located at 301 South Main, the business has been a familiar fixture of the community since 2002. For roughly 15 years, both residents and travelers alike have stopped at the store for gas, souvenirs, and food. Yet, like any other structure, the Lusk Fresh Start began to exhibit the symptoms of time’s inexorable passage. Outdated aesthetic motifs, faded paint, small restrooms, and a worn façade came to define the store. Thus, in 2011, Fresh Start’s corporate office decided that the time had come to give the establishment an extreme makeover. By 2016, all the right factors had aligned to allow for this ambitious endeavor to proceed. Spearheading the overhaul was Ryan Cain, Fresh Start’s Head of Operations. Cain jointly owns and operates the chain with his business partner and brother-in-law, Chris Schwartz. According to the young entrepreneur, the pride and passion involved in the project should be made evident to all who enter the remodeled store.
“As anybody will be able to see when they come through, there was a lot of excitement and attention to detail,” Cain said. “It took a few years to make sure we were comfortable and ready to pull the trigger on it. We started going down the path in 2015. We drew the store up and started talking about options. In April of 2016, I really started pushing forward.”
A total of 29 stores comprise the Fresh Start chain. Three of those stores are in Wyoming, including the Lusk branch. One can be found in Nebraska and 25 are located in South Dakota. While all of these stores are clearly important, Cain placed notable emphasis upon the Lusk branch. As one might conclude from the prolific traffic within and through Lusk, the local Fresh Start tends to do a sizable amount of business. According to Cain, this consideration coupled with the store’s overall condition came to constitute a two-fold rationale for an extensive upgrade.
“Firstly, this store is very key to our organization,” Cain said. “Secondly, the previous offering in terms of the store was not up to par with the standards that we wanted to present to our customers. The town of Lusk deserved to have a store that it could be proud of. As everybody who lives here or travels through already knows, the state of the bathrooms and the overall store was old and tired. The store deserved to be in a better position and condition. So, we finally did it.”
Those who stop at the newly renovated store will automatically notice a combination of modern amenities with rustic charm. In a sense, the remodeled Fresh Start actually draws the natural world into the interior of the convenience mart. Earth tones and wood create an outdoor ambience. Meanwhile, electronic monitors and state-of-the-art display cases keep customers partially anchored in a modern milieu. Thus, patrons find themselves inhabiting two worlds that have been harmoniously synthesized into a rustic-modern look. Cain stated that while elements of this style were being incorporated into other stores, the Lusk Fresh Start acted as the inaugural run for the rustic-modern motif.
“Approximately two-years ago, we started doing the rusted tin and the board and batten in some of the stores that were receiving facelifts or remodels,” Cain said. “That’s been the most enjoyable part of the process for me. I’ve been both fortunate and cursed to be the one to really drive what this thing was going to look like when it was done. It’s been a really fun process. We got to do the rusted metal and wood in some of our other stores, but this gets to be our flagship store. It is the model for any time we either build or remodel other locations. They will look like this store.”
According to Cain, the Lusk Fresh Start provides the base schematic according to which the rest of the chain will conform. Depending on each store’s individual nuances, there will be a few exceptions and variations. However, the Lusk Fresh Start will remain the aesthetic linchpin of the company.
“There will be variables,” Cain said. “Some locations may not have a Soul Food Coffee Shop. Not every store has a kitchen. But, as far as the look and feel, those who walk into our other stores will find something that is similar to what we have here. This set the standard for what we are going to do and be in moving forward, which is why so much of my time was poured into it. If you were to walk through the store, I could point out to you at least 50 different things that were part of my vision for the store.”
Indeed, a casual perusal of the newly renovated store will reveal several upgrades that reflect Cain’s personal aesthetic sensibilities. Moreover, they reflect the unique contributions of the various companies that worked on Fresh Start. For instance, the rebar handles on all of the cabinetry are custom built by Dakota Weld and Machine, which is based just outside of Rapid City. There is also new signage, custom metal work, and a wall-sized map that encapsulates western South Dakota, greater Wyoming, and a small portion of Nebraska. This sizable piece of geographical art was printed by Quik Signs, a marketing company based in Spearfish, South Dakota.
In regards to the map, Cain stated, “Many of the people that come through Lusk during the summer are travelers. So, we wanted to give them a reference point of where they were, and where they are headed.”
Cain stated that he discovers something new to like every time he surveys the finished project.
“I find a new favorite every time I look around,” Cain said.
Of course, a vision is only one part of the remodeling equation. An adept architecture firm is equally essential for the tangible enactment of an otherwise abstract idea. To that end, Cain turned to the knowledgeable minds and hands of Williams and Associates Architecture, Inc. Situated in Spearfish, South Dakota, Williams and Associates boasts a portfolio that includes religious, community, and commercial projects. According to Cain, the company’s involvement was integral to the realization of his vision.
“Fortunately, I had a really good architect that worked with me on this,” Cain said. “While I enjoy design and remodeling, it obviously isn’t my trade. So, I had a really good architect to help me through the process.”
As one might surmise, an idea’s migration from blueprints to reality is not necessarily a seamless transition. Naturally, certain aspects of the idea can be lost in translation. Yet, Cain states that Williams and Associates smoothed out the bumps on the road from vision to tangible enactment.
Drawing an analogy, Cain said, “I’m more of an editor than a writer. I’m a visual type of a guy. I’ve got to see it. I would say, ‘Here’s kind of what I’m thinking.’ I would tell them what I wanted in my super unscientific manner. They would throw what they thought I meant on paper and send it over to me. Then, I could tell them if I thought they were on the right track. Once I see something, I can make changes. They did a really good job of giving me something to work with. We worked really well together in that regard.”
In addition to the two aforementioned companies, Cain had to tap the talents of Dakota Electric and Scull Construction Service, Inc. The latter contracted out for the project in May 2016. Various subcontractors were subsequently lined up and ground was eventually broken on September 10, 2016. Cain maintained a watchful eye throughout the process, consistently consulting with architects to ensure that his vision for the store was closely approximated. Simultaneously, he continued to oversee the chain’s stores elsewhere. As one might surmise, such a juggling act was not easy.
“The problem with going into a project like this is that we also have to run other stores,” Cain said. “That’s my job as the Head of Operations. It wasn’t something where I could just hand-draw a packet of blueprints and say, ‘Here you go! Talk to you in six months!’ I traveled down here every week and met with them. We made tweaks and changes.”
The project entered its final phases in March 2017. With much of the work done, Cain has been preparing to withdraw and allow the competent hands of Lusk staff to once more manage the store.
“We want to be able to turn the store back over to the district manager and staff,” Cain said. “We want everything to be to the point where they just have to run it. We want to be able to hand them the store and say, ‘It’s done. It’s our baby.’ Obviously, I’ll be back because I try to get to every store once a month. But, I will let them run it the way I know that they will. They’ll make the people of Lusk and the company proud.”
Cain expressed gratitude to the Lusk staff, District Manager Dan Bruner, and Director of Food Services Brandi Johnstone for their help in the remodeling of the store. Those who wish to learn more about Fresh Start can visit the company’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/fsgas/?pnref=lhc.