Customers soon will see a change at a couple local convenience stores. Oklahoma-based Williams Express -- which until midnight Wednesday operated a store each in Kenai and Soldotna -- announced Thursday that is has sold its Alaska gas stations to Holiday Stationstores of Bloomington, Minn.
The change at the two Kenai-Soldotna stores became effective at 12:01 a.m. Thursday morning. Although the stores still sport Williams signs, store workers Thursday switched over and are wearing new Holiday uniforms.
According to an employee who answered the phone Thursday at the Kenai Holiday store, employees have been told changes to the buildings will be completed by October.
In a press release issued by Williams, Holiday CEO Ronald Erickson said any small changes customers see at the company's Alaska stores will be for the positive.
"We know the Williams Express customers will be pleased with the changes they will see as the stores convert to Holiday," Erickson said.
A Williams spokesperson said Thursday that the company's sale of its Alaska oil properties -- which also included an oil refinery in North Pole, two petroleum terminals, crude oil and gasoline inventories and a share in the trans-Alaska pipeline -- completes a process the company began nearly two years ago.
"If you go back to July of '02, Williams was going through some tough financial times," Williams spokesperson Kelly Swan said Thursday. He said the company decided to get out of the Alaska oil and retail market in order to focus more closely on its natural gas investments in the Lower 48.
"It was a decision to improve finances and focus strictly on natural gas," Swan said.
Williams sold its final Alaska oil holdings for a total of $290 million. According to Swan, the deal was the last in Williams' $6 billion move from the state.
Despite having to leave Alaska because of business reasons, Swan said the company will look fondly on its time spent in Alaska.
"It was a great market," Swan said. "But it was a business decision."
On a personal note, Swan said he's disappointed he'll no longer have the opportunity to take business trips to visit the 49th state.
"I'm an Oklahoma boy, so I'm going to miss getting to go up there," he said.
What it came down to, however, is Williams had to look out for its business interests, Swan said.
"The bottom line for us is we're back on our feet," he said.
"We're very happy about that."
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