By Paul Post
How important is Stewart’s Shops to the upstate economy?
The Saratoga County-based firm spends $50 million per year on remodeling projects, replacing old stores with new ones, and entering new markets in 32 counties from the Canadian border to Newburgh, and southern Vermont to Oswego on Lake Ontario.
“Our territory swells from the outer edges,” Chief Operating Officer Chad Kiesow said. “We’re very successful when we’re in areas where people understand what we provide. We’re not your typical convenient store selling snacks, beverage and cigarettes. In some communities we’re a local grocery store. In others, we provide a dining area and a place for people to enjoy our own fresh-made products.”
“Fifty percent of our opportunities come via phone calls from people asking us to locate there,” he said. “The other half, we’re out pounding the pavement looking for communities that need the services we can provide.”
Kiesow joined Stewart’s in 1994 and is chairman of Saratoga Chamber of Commerce in 2024.
With 359 shops and 5,000 full- and part-time employees, Convenience Store News says Stewart’s Shops is the nation’s 18th largest chain, and generated $1.7 billion in revenue in 2022 (zippia.com). Industry leader 7-Eleven is the largest convenience store company with more than 12,700 sites.
Stewart’s corporate offices are on Route 9, just south of Northway Exit 13 in Malta. Last year, the firm completed a $6 million, 60,000-square-foot expansion of its large distribution and manufacturing facility off Route 9N in Greenfield, where dairy and hot and cold food products are processed and prepared.
“We’re currently in front of the Greenfield Planning Board with another expansion plan that will take us out three to five years,” Kiesow said. “It’s a $6 million to $7 million investment, modernizing equipment and expanding our footprint to make sure we remain efficient.”
Founded in 1945, the company’s early success was built around fresh milk and ice cream. It still gets milk from a network of about two dozen local dairies.
But lifestyles and consumer buying habits have changed dramatically in recent years.
“There’s no question that traditional three square meals a day is a thing of the past for most people,” Kiesow said. “Most folks are extremely busy and have a grab-and-go mentality. So we focus on providing those types of items, whether it’s a cold sub, salad or frozen take-home meal they can pop in the microwave.”
In 2023, Stewart’s built shops at new sites in Gouverneur, Middletown, Utica and added a second one in Oneonta. It also replaced four old stores in Scotia, Lake Placid, Frankfurt in the Mohawk Valley and Great Bend, Jefferson County.
Kiesow said Frankfurt is a classic example of Stewart’s filling a void to meet a community’s need.
“There was a small family-run grocery and deli whose owners wanted to retire and had no succession plan,” he said. “It was a community without a grocery store, so it was a great fit for us. We expanded our location there and the amount of grocery products we carry in that store to help fill that niche.”
This year, plans call for replacing 10 existing shops and moving into four new locations — the former Grandma’s Pies site on Central Avenue in Colonie, Wellness Way in Latham, Highland (Ulster County) and a second shop in Middletown (Orange County).
Three of the 10 rebuilds are in Saratoga Springs at the corner of Lake and Weibel avenues (scheduled to open April 23), South Broadway and Marion Avenue. Others are on Glen Street in Glens Falls, Pine Plains, Hoosick and Hoosick Falls, Glenmont, Worcester (Otsego County) and just off Thruway Exit 21 in Catskill.
Such projects also boost the economy by providing jobs and work for area contractors. Stewart’s has its own large, in-house team drafters and designers.
But it relies heavily on three local firms for most of the actual building. These are Hilltop Construction Company of Queensbury, EMCO Construction Company of Malta and Franco Construction Services in Ballston.
Stewart’s hires other firms for jobs in the far reaches of its territory.
Kiesow said the widespread use of social media has slowed the municipal approval process in some communities, as officials try to address public concerns such as traffic impacts.
“We do not tend be a traffic generator,” he said. “We take advantage of traffic that’s already on the road, which is why we place stores where we place them. We take people off the road and put them back on.
“But social media is giving everyone a louder voice. Planning boards want to make sure they have everything addressed that they’re hearing from the community. Sometimes it only takes a comment from one or two people. The whole social media effect has caused the approval process to slow down.”
In addition to direct and indirect economic impact, Stewart’s benefits area communities with an annual Holiday Match program, which this year raised more than $2 million for area children’s charities. The company has matched the more than $1 million customers donated between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
Funds will be distributed to hundreds of nonprofit children’s organizations throughout New York and Vermont by March 31.
“Even during uncertain economic times, our customers continue to amaze me with their generosity,” Kiesow said.
Including this year’s tally, the Stewart’s Holiday Match program has raised more than $38 million since its inception in 1986. Because Stewart’s does not charge any administrative fees, 100 percent of those funds are re-distributed into the community.
Last year, the program benefited 1,939 local nonprofit children’s organizations. Stewart’s is accepting applications for Holiday Match funds through Jan. 31. Organizations can apply online at stewartsshops.com. All applicants must be a locally based, 501c3 charitable group that benefits children.
Even more towns, villages and cities will benefit as Stewart’s territory expands. “It’s tougher to break into fully developed communities that have a long history such as Utica where the prime corners are already taken,” Kiesow said. “You aren’t going to find a nice corner lot that readily. It forces us to be very selective on our site selection, especially outside the Capital District where our name and products aren’t as well known.”
So far, Stewart’s hasn’t moved into Western Massachusetts, but Kiesow said it’s a possibility sometime down the road. “Any time you break into a new state you have to deal with new regulations, tax filings and different laws,” he said. “Western Massachusetts is something we’ve certainly looked at over the years, but haven’t pursued. I do see that as very likely in the future, but not yet.”
Because it’s a convenience store company, Stewart’s has electric vehicle fast-charging stations at 12 locations including Route 9 in Ballston Spa, near Exit 13.
“Our installations are owned and financed by Tesla and/or by New York Power Authority,”:Kiesow said. “Site selection is dictated mostly by proximity to highway traffic and site conditions. The average charger spends 20 to 30 minutes at our shops and are able to enjoy the services we provide such as rest rooms, snacks, prepared foods and an ice cream treat. There is certainly EV growth, but we see the runway to adoption to be much longer than the government and media are projecting.”