GRASSY BUTTE, N.D. – The oil boom has changed a lot in western North Dakota, but locals here can still depend on one tiny convenience store.
Beicegel Station in the unincorporated community of Grassy Butte has all the groceries and necessities locals need, free coffee in the morning and owners who’d get out of bed to help a stranded motorist.
“You ain’t going to find another one like it,” owner Don Trotter said of the store.
Motorists pump gas with antique fuel pumps at the station, which Don owns with his wife, Vickie.
While many Oil Patch gas stations now require drivers to pre-pay for fuel, motorists here fill up and then tell Don how much they pumped, all on the honor system.
Locals and some businesses charge fuel, groceries and other purchases to their accounts and Vickie bills them at the end of the month.
“It’s just like the old days,” Don said.
The shop, which the Trotters have owned for about 15 years, had steady business before the oil boom.
Nikki McAlpin, who ranches near Grassy Butte and recently began working at the shop, said locals usually go shopping in Dickinson about once a month and rely on the local store between trips.
“This store for us has always been our local grab,” said McAlpin as she restocked chewing tobacco on a recent afternoon. “We depend on it, actually.”
Now the store, just off of U.S. Highway 85 south of Watford City, sees a lot of new faces as oil development ramps up in the area.
“Now it’s just busier,” Don said.
The station opens at 6:30 a.m., and Don has trained most people not to arrive any earlier.
The store offers a little bit of everything, from milk to plumbing supplies to auto parts and tire repairs. Ranchers gather around a table in the morning for free coffee.
“We try to close at 5:30, but it rarely happens,” Don said. “I try to close on Sundays. It doesn’t usually work.”
One new challenge the couple has is encountering desperate drivers who run out of gas and don’t have money to pay.
“They come up here and they have no money and they can’t quite make it to Williston, the land of opportunity. They’re just stuck out here in the middle of nowhere,” Vickie said.
The Trotters used to trust people to pay them back, but now they ask motorists to leave something of value behind.
“We’ve always trusted people to pay us back, and now it’s kind of a harder time,” Vickie said. “Many times we never see them again.”
The store’s phone number rings at the Trotters’ home and it sometimes rings at night if someone finds the number on the Internet or on the sign at the store.
One pet-peeve Vickie has is they’ll get called out of bed to open the store and the driver will only put in enough fuel to make it to the next town where they can save 5 cents a gallon.
“If you ever run out of gas and you call somebody out of bed, fill up your tank, at least,” Vickie said.
A new truck stop being built on the intersection of highways 85 and 200 could change things for the store. But Vickie, who also works as a production clerk for oil and gas company Petro-Hunt, said they’re not worried.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Vicki said. “Maybe we can close it up and retire, but for now, it’s like you have to help the people.”