WESTLAKE, Ohio—The coronavirus pandemic shut down thousands of hotels and restaurants along U.S. highways, leaving truck stops to fill the void and keep 18-wheelers moving along, the Wall Street Journal reports. Travel Centers of America Inc. noted its shares rose more than 50%, with close to an 80% net income bump in 2020 over 2019. Other truck stop operators have registered increases as well, especially with more e-commerce and deliveries. Truck stops have three major players: Travel Centers, Pilot Co., and Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores.
Travel Centers had to shutter its full-service restaurants when the pandemic first hit, but now about half of the dining rooms have reopened. “COVID helped teach us that we were really poor as owners of full-service restaurants,” said CEO Jonathan Pertchik, who noted big changes were coming to that side of the business.
The uptick in business hasn’t been smooth sailing for all truck stop owners. Early in the pandemic, food sales at Iowa 80 Truckstop plummeted 95%. But with more people driving this summer, food sales have recovered and are now only down 35% compared to 2019, said Delia Moon Meier, whose family owns the business. “Lots of people are taking driving trips,” she said. “Nobody is flying anywhere.”
Some analysts predict truck stops could see demand decline if a longer recession slows the supply line, but other macro trends might keep it trucking along. “What juices trucking trends? New private residential construction,” said Bryan Maher, analyst and managing director of B. Riley FBR Inc. “If everybody is moving out of cities into homes in the suburbs, that can definitely fill some of that void.”
NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.