CHOCTAW — Four years ago, Warren Waltz shepherded customers to safety in a cooler at Love’s Travel Stop then curled his body into the fetal position to ride out an EF4 tornado that tore off the building’s roof.
On Thursday, he welcomed customers into the rebuilt store at Interstate 40 and Choctaw Road.
“We’re very glad to be back in the community,” said Waltz, general manager of the new store.
Love’s celebrated the opening of its newest location Thursday as part of its landmark anniversary. The Oklahoma City-based chain started in 1964 when Tom and Judy Love leased an abandoned filling station in Watonga. The Oklahoma City business now has 320 locations in 39 states.
“We’re not slowing down,” co-CEO Frank Love said. “This’ll be the biggest year we’ve ever had.”
30 new stores coming
Love’s plans to build 30 new stores this year, including one in Maryland, bringing to 40 the number of states where it has a presence.
“We’re everywhere freight and people are on the interstates,” Love said.
Love said it took several years to rebuild at I-40 and Choctaw Road because the state reconfigured the interchange after the 2010 tornado.
Love’s also moved across the highway to what Love called a better location on the north side, one that allowed the company to rebuild a bigger facility “with all the bells and whistles.”
“This is our state-of-the-art facility,” Love said.
He said newer Love’s stores feel more like a mall than a truck stop, with a broader selection of food and other merchandise.
Waltz said the new Choctaw location showcases all of the amenities Love’s offers at its newest travel stops, including two restaurants, a truck tire center and an expansive parking lot.
It also will offer compressed natural gas for heavy-duty trucks and passenger vehicles by mid-summer.
He said the new store is 11,000 square feet, more than twice the size of the old location, which was built in the mid-1980s.
Love’s marked its return to Choctaw by donating $2,000 to Choctaw-Nicoma Park Public Schools, which will use the money for new technology for students.