Arrowhead: New Travel Plaza Redefines Convenience

February 2009, CUJ

Arrowhead Travel Plaza

The largest room in the 19,000 square foot Arrowhead Travel Plaza is a 7,500 square foot convenience store with a 715 square foot cold case. Crews work on a sales counter and floors. This view is from the west looking to the east toward the trucker entrance.

Arrowhead Travel Plaza

CTUIR Executive Director Don Sampson and Arrowhead manager Don Nelson walk through the women’s restroom with eight stalls on one side and a wall of sinks on the other.

Arrowhead Travel Plaza

Nelson and Sampson exit the cooler, which will be filled with beverages as well as some grocery items like eggs and milk.


First phase extension of water, sewer and road service slated to start in November.

MISSION – If all goes according to plan, a simultaneous switch will occur as one shift ends and another begins in early March, the doors closing to a tired, outdated truck stop as customers enter a bigger, brighter, more accommodating Arrowhead Travel Plaza.

The new facility, with twice the number of fuel pumps and a building nearly four times the size of the old convenience store, is state-of-the-art with an open, inviting atmosphere that screams NEW.

After a lifetime pushing four decades, the old Arrowhead could no longer claim convenience as a quality. With increased traffic, the entrance and exits for cars and trucks was at best burdensome, at worst dangerous. Inside the crowded store, easy navigation was hectic, and quick service, in spite of staff efforts, was limited by the lineup at the counter.

The new travel plaza, to rival any up and down Interstate 84, boasts amenities ranging from an Internet wired coin-op laundry and a TV room with theater seating to an expanded gift shop and a McDonald’s restaurant.

But as nice as it might sound, a seamless change from one building to the next isn’t likely, so plans call for a “soft opening” to help work the kinks out before a grand opening event is scheduled in April.

“With new registers and new pumps there will be a certain amount of unanticipated problems to resolve and work through,” said Arrowhead manager Don Nelson. “There’s no way to predict everything that could go wrong.”

In February, the mindset of management and staff will shift gears as preparations are made for the switch. Fixtures and product from the old store will be moved to the new facility as time allows, but in some ways the change will literally be overnight.

“The minute we open over there, we close here,” said Nelson, already thinking about the demolition of the old building to make room for bus and RV parking, an RV dump station and a propane service area.

The existing staff is expected to handle new duties, particularly in light of travel reduced by winter and a weak economy.

“We’ll see how it grows in volume,” said Nelson, who has shepherded the old Arrowhead from $6.1 million in sales in 2001 to more than $30 million last year. “We’re not going to hire a bunch of people up front with this economy and then not grow as quickly as we’d hoped.”

Nelson does, however, expect Arrowhead to prosper. The store is expanding its product line, taking advantage of a building that is growing from 5,000 square feet to 19,000 square feet.

Although the building will include much more than a convenience store, “We’re nearly quadrupling the space available to sell product,” Nelson said. “There will be room to move and we’ll be able to stay stocked.”

In the current building, the store just about had to sell out of a gift line before there was room to replenish or replace it.

Now, not only will Arrowhead be able to keep popular items in stock, it will be able to offer more variety.

“We want to offer different lines to keep the interest of travelers,” said Nelson, who recently attended a gift show in Seattle.

The upshot of that trip will be at least two new product lines – porcelain dolls and die-cast miniature collector cars and trucks. Arrowhead will continue to offer a unique line of knives and swords, which have been extremely popular, plus its Native Gear brand of clothing. Expect to see other “typical truck stop” products, like novelty T-shirts and hats, and other items.

An area of travel accessories, with a particular focus on truckers, will include an electronics section with products like GPS units, CB radios and radar detectors, and a bank of CDs, DVDs and books on tape. Camping supplies will be available for travelers with an emphasis on RVers.

Of course, the convenience store will offer more snacks and candy than anyone could dream of, with a cooler capable of quenching any-sized thirst with non-alcoholic beverages and the current craze - energy drinks. And for those desiring a healthier cuisine, Arrowhead will sell staples like bread, milk and eggs as well.

Customers to Arrowhead will be able to choose from three entrances – two on the west side of the building and one, primarily for truckers, on the east side.

As truckers enter, they will have the option of walking straight west to the sales counter and the convenience store, or turning left down a hallway that offers them a variety of services. The first room features 10 desks with phones and internet connections. The next room will boast a big-screen TV with theatre seating where weary drivers can relax and even snooze.

Restrooms, with an entrance for auto travelers on the west side, are big and roomy with tiled walls and floors unlike most pit stops. The men’s side has eight stalls and half a dozen urinals, plus six sinks. The women’s side has eight stalls and a wall of sinks.

“We don’t want anyone to have to wait,” said Nelson.

Truckers also will have the option of using one of eight private bathrooms with sink, toilet and shower. Cost will be $7, free if fuel is purchased.

The front entrance to the store, at the southerly west doors, immediately offers the Native Gear to the right, the gift shop to the left.

“It’s big enough that you don’t just see racks of candy bars and snacks when you walk in,” Nelson said. “You have to walk through the gifts or at least walk by it to get to the convenience store or even if you head toward McDonald’s.”

The fastest way to get to the Big Macs will be via the northerly-most doors on the west side. When they enter, people will have the option of going left for fast food or turning right toward the restrooms and convenience store.

However, as soon as they walk in that entrance visitors will experience something not typical of other truck stops.

First, although at press time it was still more of an idea than a reality, customers – especially families – torn between turning left to McDonald’s or right to the restrooms, will see a display of huge bigger-than-life stuffed animals where it would be appropriate for Mom or Dad to snap a photo.

“It would be something to remember,” said Nelson. “Things like that can set you apart from other truck stops. It becomes a stopping place instead of a place where you happen to stop.”

If stuffed bears aren’t compelling, the wall directly in front of patrons will display art or artifacts from Tamástslikt Cultural Institute that should not only provide insight into the people who own Arrowhead, but may entice some to drive the extra mile to see what else the museum has to offer.

If the smell of fries and burgers don’t pull them to the left or if they take advantage of an ATM or visit the restrooms to the right, travelers will be exposed to another wall display, this one that markets nearby Wildhorse Resort & Casino.

The building’s layout, travel paths and parking all contribute to a concerted effort to promote Wildhorse and Tamástslikt. A shuttle service, especially designed for truckers, is planned to get drivers back and forth from travel plaza to casino.

McDonaldsBy early March, this will be a McDonald’s Restaurant.
Arrowhead Travel PlazaFourteen gas and diesel pumps for autos will include flex fuels and bio-diesel. Eight diesel pumps on the east side of the building will serve truckers.
Arrowhead Travel PlazaWork progresses on sales counters in the convenience store portion of the new Arrowhead Travel Plaza. The beverage cooler doors are seen in the back left of the photo.

Arrowhead Travel Plaza

  • 14 Gas and 8 diesel pumps
  • Flex Fuels E-85 and Bio-Diesel
  • 7,500 square foot convenience store
  • 715 square foot cold case
  • Expanded gift shop (from swords to porcelain dolls)
  • Fuel sales counter
  • Store sales counter
  • Fountain and coffee bar
  • Clothing (Native Gear brand)
  • Electronics (GPS, CBs, etc.)
  • CDs, DVDs and books on tape
  • Magazines and paperbacks
  • Huge restrooms (8 stalls, 6 urinals, 6 sinks for men; 8 stalls, wall of sinks for women)
  • l8 Private Showers for truckers
  • TV room for truckers
  • Desks with Internet, phone service
  • Coin-op laundry
  • Parking lot pedestals for Internet, electricity, phone and cable TV service
  • Camping supplies
  • Souvenirs
  • WIFI inside the building
  • 18 Bus & RV parking spots
  • 69 Auto parking spots
  • 115 Truck parking spots
  • RV Dump Station
  • Propane Filling Station
  • Courtesy Phones to the Casino
  • ODOT Road Camera Monitors
  • McDonald’s Restaurant

This story and photos originally appeared in the CUJ. The Confederated Umatilla Journal is the monthly newspaper of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Pendleton, Oregon.