NISKU, Alta. — If you’re looking for some grub, a place to rest, or simply a place to unwind after a long haul on the road, Nisku, Alta., may be the place for you.
Just south of Edmonton, Alta., Blackjacks Roadhouse has been catering to truck drivers since 2009, but those who run the facility are seeing reasons behind the continued recline of the traditional truck stop in Canada.
Owner Clarence Shields has been in the hospitality industry for 45 years, including the truck stop business for more than 30. Starting with the Nisku Truck Stop, a 24-hour restaurant, bar, and games room for the first 20 years, he opened Blackjacks after selling his former operation on Alberta’s busiest corridor, the intersection of Hwy 2, 19 and 625.
The business has expanded three times to meet the needs of both the Nisku Industrial Park and the trucking community it relies upon so greatly.
Blackjacks is now over 20,000 sq.-ft. and is licensed to seat 850 customers and house over 160 units in its truck parking area.
“The trucking industry has played an important role in the success of Blackjacks,” said Tyler Grant, social media manager for Blackjacks. “We estimate that over 60,000 trucks utilize our parking facilities yearly.”
This is not a surprising figure considering the response Truck West received in its effort to gain feedback on the best truck stops in Western Canada on Twitter this past month. Several Twitter users lauded the Central Alberta truck stop as one of the best in the region, and not just for the services it offers.
But not all are using those services, which can pose challenges for the business’ bottom line.
“A recent two-week-long onsite study in 2016 showed us that less than 25% of more than 160 truckers parking at Blackjacks each night actually supported us,” Grant pointed out. “Many just using Blackjacks as a free place to park, or drop their load.”
Shields said he expanded the services and infrastructure of Blackjacks in 2017 in an effort to offer more to the trucking industry in the hopes of increasing
the number of drivers utilizing the facility.
Currently, Blackjacks offers truckers a 24-hour restaurant, bar, games room, 10 executive showers and laundry facilities, parking for more than 160 trucks, shuttle service to local attractions, a state-of-the-art weight scale with an 18’ platform to accommodate oversized loads, Wi-Fi coverage throughout, and video monitoring and LED lighting covering the entire site, something Shields said was mandatory for female drivers.
“Blackjacks wants to be a trucker’s ‘home away from home’ when they are required to park over night or for that 36 hour reset providing all the essential services they need,” said Grant. “Studies have shown that 30% to 35% of all commercial truckers in Canada park illegally every night. Those numbers should alarm everyone in the industry.”
But despite the effort to entice increased commercial truck usage at Blackjacks, Shields is concerned that several drivers take advantage of the location.
Shields said every morning they are forced to “collect garbage and pee bottles thrown into his yard,” and that some carriers drop oversized loads without notice despite signage that recommends otherwise.
“Surprisingly it is most of the major carriers who take advantage of my prime location using my site as a free relay or transfer yard,” said Shields. “I understand now why more and more privately-owned truck rest areas are disappearing.”
As a result, Shields said Blackjacks will be implementing a $10 pay-to-park program for all truck drivers parking for longer than three hours at the location.
“Those who park will receive a $5 coupon that can be used toward any purchase at Blackjacks Roadhouse,” said Shields. “So realistically, they can expense the $10 and pick up $5 for just parking at my facility.”
Shields said it has become difficult to support the trucking industry with the lack of support he sees from those who reap the benefit of his services.
“The industry must realize that they must support facilities that provide the full compliment of services their drivers require,” he said, “or rest stops such as mine will continue to disappear.”
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