Browning on Business: Watkins 45 sells to Sprint Mart

December 5, 2013 9:54:16 AM

William Browning - [email protected]


Three facts about Watkins 45 in Columbus. 


One, it is the city's third busiest convenience store. Two, it sells more Hunt Brothers Pizza pies than any other Mississippi location. Three, its longtime owner sold it to Sprint Mart on Monday. 


Bobby Watkins, 51, owned the business at 712 Hwy. 45 for 23 years. But he and his wife, Tina, felt like it was time to move on. 


The store will change some. Sprint Mart, a growing convenience store chain based in Jackson, will stock more items. But some things will stay the same, Watkins said.  


The six employees he had will continue working there. Pizza will still be served. And the 10-pump station will continue offering ethanol-free gasoline, which was a point of pride for Watkins. 


A few years ago, when stations went toward gasoline containing ethanol, Watkins did, too. But some customers complained. (Newer engines use the ethanol gasoline fine but Watkins said older engines struggle with it. He sympathizes: He drives a 1970 Chevrolet Nova.) 


"Guys would come in and say they had to throw away their weed eaters after using it," he said. 


So he asked Dutch Oil Company to stock him with ethanol-free gasoline so people had a choice. The gas company did and said it hoped Watkins could sell 20 percent of ethanol-free gasoline. At the time Watkins sold to Sprint Mart, more than 50 percent of the gasoline he sold was ethanol-free. 


Watkins will miss the store. It was a family affair. His wife managed it. His mother made the pizzas. But his fondest memory is from the holidays. 


Each year after Thanksgiving, Watkins put this message on the store's marquee: "Keep Christ in Christmas." And each year, he said, "four or five" people would come in and say they were not doing business there until he took the message down.  


"I always told them, 'Well, I'll see you after Christmas,'" he said. "But I also had hundreds of people stick their heads in the door and thank me for that." 


Watkins, whose father, Charlie Watkins, was chief of police in Columbus for two decades, will continue having a presence in the 700 and 800 blocks of Hwy. 45. Since buying the gas station location 23 years ago, he has come to own several pieces of property in the stretch between downtown Columbus and Highway 82. Like the properties where Christy's Hamburgers, Baldwin's Produce & Market and Rose's Day Spa are located. He also operates a U-Haul business across from the gas station, as well as Watkin's Washette. 


Which brings us to this: Shelton Cleaners, which has operated in Columbus for more than 40 years and is located on Sixth St. North, will open a satellite location inside of Watkin's Washette within the next two weeks. Remodeling is underway. 


Now let's go across town. 


Last week, Anytime Fitness, a nationwide workout club headquartered in Minnesota, received a permit from the city of Columbus to remodel a space at Lehmberg Crossing Shopping Center on Alabama Street. 


The club has 1,000-plus locations across the country. One of its key advertisements: if you join one location, you can get in all. They are all open 24/7/365. 


There are Anytime Fitness locations in West Point and Starkville. 


Browning on Business is a weekly column that runs each Thursday. We want your input. Send items and tips to [email protected] or [email protected]

William Browning was managing editor for The Dispatch until June 2016.