In the late 1960’s, Wally Gleitsman, a man from the LaGrange IL area with an eighth grade education and a growing family, owned a home delivery milk route. Wally and his wife Yvonne had 4 girls at home and were also responsible for Wally’s younger brother Tom. He had put Tom on his milk truck to help with the routes and together they built up quite a business throughout the Chicago suburbs.
In 1971, they leveraged their milk business to purchase their first gas station in Woodstock IL. A small mechanic shop they converted into one of the first convenience stores in the nation. They sold massive amounts of their own milk, bread and cigarettes, and would later add candy and other grocery items to the store. They called it Short Stop. (Trivia: In 1992, this station was leased out for a week for $1500 for the filming of a movie, can you name the movie and star? Read on for the answer)
Not long after this, they bought another location in Crystal Lake and became a pioneer in the creation of Self-Service Gasoline!
By the late 70’s, Wally and Tom had differing goals in building the business and went their separate ways. Wally and his wife Yvonne began to expand in other Northern Illinois towns of Rockford, Loves Park, Machesney Park, Dekalb and Rochelle., bringing their new concept to each of these communities. They created Exel Sales, Inc. and changed the names of their stores to MinuteMan Convenience Stores featuring plastic gallon jugs of Minuteman Milk. A true local phenomenon had been created.
In the late 1980’s, Wally was on a mission to open 5 brand new locations in Rockford and Loves Park IL that would bring Chicago style hot dogs and Italian beefs to his sparkling new stations. The stores were full of stainless steel and bright neon inside and out. Top of the line kitchens were installed, and a new era was set to begin! The concept was about 10 years ahead of it’s time and was doomed from the beginning! Significant cost over runs in construction and a customer base that was not yet prepared to buy great food from a gas station sent the company into a tail spin.
Only 3 stores were ever developed, and by 1993, the kitchens had been removed, and Wally needed to reinvent himself again! He purchased a run-down station near Midway airport and discovered the concept of selling cheap tobacco products and driving business with discounted cigarettes. By this time, he had secured liquor licenses in as many stores as he could, and Minuteman stores became known as THE place to buy cigarettes and beer.
In the mid to late 90’s, stand alone tobacco stores became popular, and Pic-A-But locations were added to the company mix. At it’s peak, Wally and Yvonne owned 19 Minuteman and Pic-A-But locations. A true powerhouse was built, and in 1999, Clark Oil purchased a significant portion of Exel Sales, Inc. locations. Soon after, the Pic-A-But locations were sold off as well.
By then, the Midway airport location had led to the purchase of a neighboring property where he built a massive gas station with 9 dispensers and a 2400 square foot building. On the original site, a new 2500 square foot building with 12 dispensers was built, and Wally and Yvonne found themselves with 2 massive gas stations on the SAME block of Central Ave in Stickney IL! They had soon rebuilt locations in Rochelle and Loves Park that had not been sold to Clark and were looking at property to take advantage of cigarette tax advantages in communities surrounding the city of Chicago.
By 2004, they had built a site in Skokie and added a station in Hammond IN as well, and sold tremendous amounts of cigarettes and gasoline out of their now 6 locations.
It wasn’t long before another re-creation was going to be needed! The Cook County Board of Commissioners decided to tax cigarettes at $10 per carton, and 70% of the company’s profits were lost overnight. In the next few years $30 per carton was being taxed and more profits were gone. To keep the company solvent, Wally sold his Loves Park and Rochelle locations to a fierce competitor. This competitor used to work for Exel Sales, Inc. and when Wally built a store in Loves Park, directly across the street from this competitor, a good old-fashioned gas war broke out. When the doors opened, the gas price was $1.59 and about 6 hours later, the price was down to .39 cents a gallon—5 lane streets were crammed with vehicles, police were directing traffic so more fuel could be brought to the stations, and TV networks from across the country picked up the story from local Rockford affiliates. It was a GREAT day…but pretty expensive!
Wally then set out to get Cook county to allow liquor licenses in the two gas stations by Midway and he added Dunkin Donuts to one of the locations. Still it wasn’t quite enough. In 2005 he took a big leap and bought up the properties between his two gas stations on Central Ave. There he built a state-of-the-art tunnel car wash to help solidify his investments in the gas stations. The Central Ave block of businesses is affectionately referred to today as Wally World.
Both Wally and Yvonne passed away in 2018, and the company is now owned by their 4 daughters with daughter Jill Donovan at the helm of the company.
Jill immediately went to work reinventing the company once again! Jill has sold off the Skokie location and like her father, nearly 30 years later, has purchased a service station in Glenview IL where she will remodel the interior mechanic shop and turn it into a full convenience store with modern amenities.
Today, operating as Selex LLC, Jill has a vision to include gaming facilities to as many of the company locations as she can. By capitalizing on this relatively new phenomenon sweeping across Illinois, she is determined to turn the company back into a powerhouse once again.
(Trivia Answer: Ground Hog Day starring Bill Murray as weatherman Phil Connors. Much of the Harold Ramis written and directed movie was filmed in the downtown area of Woodstock IL, called the Square. There is a scene where Bill Murray is on a payphone inside our Woodstock gas station!)