By Melissa Manno, Times Union
Whether it be mid-winter ice cream runs or sold-out branded merchandise, Stewart’s fans prove to be among the most loyal of patrons — and after visiting every store location last year, the Freemann family might just earn the title of the business’s biggest devotees.
Over the course of the past year, Cairo natives Kristin and August Freemann and their four-year-old son, Kody, set out on a mission to visit all 358 Stewart’s Shops across 32 different counties. On New Year’s Eve, the family set foot in their final stop, the original Stewart’s Shops in Ballston Spa, marking the completion of their unique yearlong endeavor.
But unlike others who undertake a self-imposed challenge to fulfill a long-held goal, like running a marathon or attending a game at every Major League Baseball stadium, the Freemanns’ convenience store expedition was decided on a whim. One day, while channel-surfing, August came across an interview of an older couple that had gone to every Cracker Barrel.
“I said to my wife, ‘oh that’s something stupid that we would do, we should go to every Stewart’s,'” August said, adding that they already frequented their local Stewart’s multiple times a week for coffee and year-round ice cream.
Once they landed on the mission, the planning began. They would embark on Jan. 1, 2022 and were to start at the beginning, meaning they would have to revisit all of the Stewart’s they’ve already patronized, including the one just five miles from their Greene County home. After reaching out to Stewart’s Shops directly, they were provided a spreadsheet with all the stores’ addresses and began mapping out their weekend plans for the next several months.
The couple decided that in order for the visit to count, all three family members would have to set foot inside the location, and they would have to purchase at least one product. “We tried to buy new stuff as much as possible but once we got to 150 stores, we started repeating,” August said. Their go-to’s were barbecue cheese curls and peanut butter chocolate milk. And of course, the frozen dessert fanatics frequently ordered the brand’s different flavors of ice cream. Their verdict? Peanut Butter Pandemonium lives up to the hype.
From the Canadian border to southern Vermont, the eccentric journey led the Freemanns to small towns and hidden gems they would otherwise have never visited. One memory August shared was their visit to Essex, a small town in the Adirondacks he didn’t know even had a post office. The stop turned into a daylong affair dining at a charming restaurant, swimming in the pristine waters of Lake Champlain and driving to other nearby destinations. The Essex trip and their other travels are documented on an Instagram page called StewartsShopsorBust2022.
Their convenience store tourism primarily took place on the weekends, with the family strapping their toddler into his car seat as he mulled over which snack he would pick that day. (Hence, the mix of Sour Patch Kids, animal crackers and gummy worms seen throughout the Instagram feed.)
“He was all about it,” Kristin said. “He would actually wake up on Saturday and Sunday morning and be like, ‘OK, which Stewart’s are we going to today?'”
And in addition to charming small towns and natural landscapes, the family was also enticed by the different looks of each Stewart’s location, from the old-style brick buildings with metal roofs to the newer yellowish exterior with white trim. Kristin was particularly fond of the one in Lake Placid that had an apartment above for Stewart’s employees to rent. And August reflected on one, though he couldn’t recall where, that resembled a castle.
With 53 stores, Saratoga County was saved for the last leg of the family’s journey. And this past Saturday, to ring in the new year, they concluded their venture by visiting the seven remaining Stewart’s before ending at the original location on Church Avenue, where they were met by a crowd of Stewart’s representatives and a warm welcome from the brand’s mascot, Flavor the Cow.
Although they have wrapped up the expedition, August said they will likely continue to keep an eye out for new store locations to check off their list. In the upcoming weeks, they’ll be celebrating their success with a tour of the Stewart’s Shops ice cream factory in Greenfield.
And in the long-term, while no new challenges are currently on their horizon, the idea of unplugging and spending quality, uninterrupted time together is something the family will continue to prioritize — though, this year, it might not require driving through a blizzard to reach a far-flung convenience store.
“It was awesome to just spend time together like that, not watching TV or playing on our phones or involved in media,” Kristin said. “It was just a really fun thing to do together, and I hope Kody will remember it.”