On Tuesday, Oct. 13, Sheetz announced plans to hire an additional 3,000 employees company-wide.
“As an essential business, Sheetz has been committed to staying open to serve the needs of the community. We are grateful for the dedication of our employees who have continued to provide superior customer service during these challenging times,” Vice President of Human Resources Stephaine Doliveira said in a statement.
“In addition, we also want to provide employment opportunities for those who have lost their jobs during the COVID-19 health crisis.”
The Altoona-based company is hoping to provide jobs for people who may have lost employment during the pandemic. Job opportunities will be available in several departments including food service, distribution, corporate departments and maintenance, according to the news release.
Employment opportunities include medical and dental insurance, 12-week full paid maternity leave, college tuition reimbursement, and 401(k) retirement plan options.
There is a national coin shortage, but it’s not at emergency levels, at least not in the Lehigh Valley.
Those in the financial industry say the slowed economy, hoarding and a COVID-19 pandemic related reduction in production at the U.S. Mint have all led to the shortage in coins.
The shortage is being felt particularly by smaller retail locations, like gas stations and mini markets, which often deal in exact change.
Nick Ruffner, public relations manager for Altoona-based Sheetz, which has a strong presences of mini markets in the region, said at this point no one is panicking.
“Fewer coins are being circulated, but it’s not impacting us at an emergency level,” he said.
Ruffner said some people have been concerned because retailers, like Sheetz, have posted signs in stores asking customers to use exact change or their credit or debit card to make purchases.
He said retailers are just being cautious to make sure the shortage doesn’t become more serious.
At Neff’s Bank, President and CEO Kevin Schmidt said his staff has had no problem meeting the demand so far.
“We have been able to fulfill our normal orders and that of our customers. We have heard reports that non-customers have had some difficulties getting their request filled by their bank,” Schmidt said.
He calls the overall impact on banking in the Lehigh Valley, “minimal.”
Schmidt did say the bank is taking coin deposits from customers, something many retail and banking experts have been encouraging to get coins back in circulation.
Ruffner said Sheetz is going a step further in trying to ease the coin crunch, and has posted signage at all of its locations letting customers know how they can help.
He said the number one effort to recoup coins is asking customers to round up their purchase and donate the remaining change to the Sheetz for Kids campaign that the stores hold twice a year to raise money to buy holiday presents for young children in need.
They are also accepting coin donations, which will go towards that fund.
The stores are also encouraging customers to use gift cards, the store’s payment app, debit and credit cards and exact change for their purchases.
He said many of those methods are also good practice to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Eliminating cash helps prevent the transmission of the virus and promotes social distancing with staff,” he said.
Sheetz and Wawa, two of Pennsylvania’s major convenience store chains, and often the subject of arguments between their fans as to which is the best, are working together to help area food banks struggling to manage a growing need caused by the pandemic.
Sheetz and Wawa combined donated 1,000 lunches and $4,000 to Helping Harvest Food Bank in Reading and Second Harvest Food Bank of Lehigh Valley and Northeast Pennsylvania. Lunches included a turkey sandwich, cookie, fruit cup, string cheese and bottle of water.
“The coronavirus pandemic has created a dramatic increase in food insecurity across the communities we serve,” said Joe Sheetz, CEO of Sheetz. “With a combined mission of feeding people, our hope is to support those impacted by this pandemic, to provide relief to ensure that food is not added to the list of worries as we fight this pandemic.”
While the pairing may seem unusual, the CEO of Wawa Chris Gheysen said “Now was the time to come together to help our neighbors and communities.”
As purveyors of Bitcoin seek out mainstream acceptance, the cryptocurrency – arguably the best-known in a diverse field – may have just gotten a boost in Pennsylvania.
Altoona-based Sheetz has signed an agreement with Coinsource, a provider of Bitcoin ATMs, to install Bitcoin ATM kiosks in five of its Pennsylvania stores and one in North Carolina.
The kiosks will allow customers with registered Bitcoin accounts to purchase more bitcoin or exchange it for cash.
For Sheetz, which has 580 locations, primarily in the Northeast U.S., the kiosks give people another reason to walk through its doors.
It’s not the convenience-store chain’s first foray into novel products or services. It recently added CBD oil products to shelves at 140 of its locations.
“Sheetz is constantly innovating and pioneering new offerings to give our customers what they want, when they want it, 24/7,” Ryan Sheetz, assistant vice president of brand at Sheetz, said in a statement announcing the agreement with Coinsource. “As cryptocurrency increases in popularity and demand, we are excited to add this service in our continual mission to be the ultimate one-stop-shop.”
For promoters of Bitcoin, however, it’s a small but important leap into mainstream credibility.
“Not only is it making it easier for the everyday public to use [Bitcoin], it really brings Bitcoin to the everyday consumer through a well-trusted, family-owned business,” said Derek J. Muhney, director of marketing and national sales at Coinsource.
Sheetz is not the first retailer to offer Bitcoin ATMs in its stores, but it is one of the more well-known.
Other providers in the region have Bitcoin ATMs, but most are in smaller independent shops. For example, the website coinatmradar.com shows Bitcoin ATMS at the U.S. Gas N Go on Airport Road in Allentown and at the Army & Navy Store in Whitehall.
Coinsource is one of the largest Bitcoin ATM providers, with 5,000 Bitcoin ATMs around the world.
Muhney said Coinsource currently has 250 machines in 30 U.S. states. By the end of the month that should increase to 300 machines in 40 states. The company hopes to have Bitcoin ATMs in all 50 states by year’s end.
“It definitely helps that such large businesses such as Sheetz are identifying that their customers are looking for this,”Muhney said.
And the demand for easier access to Bitcoin may be greater than those not following the evolution of cryptocurrency might realize, said Hank Korth, co-director of the computer science and business program at Lehigh University in Bethlehem.
“This space is not all Bitcoin. That’s just the one that gets the most media attention,” Korth said. “But there are other significant players, especially for international currency exchange.”
He cited the Libra Consortium, led by Facebook, and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., the New York-based banking giant.
Korth said Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies may have started out with a bad image. Because they weren’t as traceable as traditional currencies, they were often used for illegal transactions.
People dealing in drugs, sex trafficking and even terrorism used cryptocurrencies on dark-web websites like Silk Road.
“That kind of unsavory reputation has tarnished Bitcoin in some peoples’ minds,” he said.
He said there were also concerns over security, with stories of people’s accounts being hacked and wiped out.
But, Korth said, those incidents were more about the security of the exchanges where Bitcoins were being traded than about the cryptocurrency itself. Bitcoin, by its blockchain-based design, he said, is very secure because it is crowdsource-protected.
And now, he said, the technology is energizing the way people make financial transfers.
“The way we do things as compared to what we can do is actually pretty archaic,” Korth said. “Checks are stupidly insecure.”
Plus, he said, the way ATM kiosks process Bitcoin adds to the security and traceability of the currency.
A user needs to provide a photo driver’s license to register and use an account and is given a unique personal identification number. The number gives the same kind of trail that making purchases with a credit card would, but still offers security because it isn’t stored alongside personal information.
Muhney noted that Bitcoin can actually be used to make a surprising number of purchases, from booking a flight on Virgin Airlines, to buying a Tesla automobile to renting a pad on Airbnb. He said many colleges and universities have recently begun accepting Bitcoin for payment.
Korth noted that for a time there was a Subway restaurant in South Whitehall Township that accepted Bitcoin as payment.
The shop has since closed because of redevelopment in the area, but for a while he said it was drawing in people from far distances because of its Bitcoin acceptance.
“People would drive for miles because they want to buy a footlong with their Bitcoin,” Korth said. “There is a true enthusiast community out there.”
Besides making Bitcoin more accessible, Muhney said, ATMs are a big help to underbanked populations, which are generally urban and low income, or people who simply choose not to have a traditional bank account.
But there are a couple of quirks to the use of Bitcoin that still need to be worked out before Bitcoin ATMs can become a ubiquitous source of currency in the U.S., Korth said.
Because trading in Bitcoin is considered making a purchase of property, it is technically subject to capital gains taxes.
“Let’s say I go to Sheetz and take money out of the Bitcoin ATM, then I walk over and buy a coffee. That’s a reportable sale of property … with the same rules as the exchange of foreign currency,” Korth said. “That’s an obvious barrier to transactions.”
Currently, tax regulations on such small transactions aren’t really being actively enforced. And to avoid complications, it’s likely the IRS will reword regulations to exempt, for example, exempt transactions under $200 or so.
With such changes, Korth, said the proliferation of Bitcoin ATM kiosks could give traditional banks a run for their money.
“This creates a nice convenience here,’ he said. “Now you have a new way of banking.”
The following Sheetz locations will feature Bitcoin ATMs:
1915 Pleasant Valley Blvd., Altoona
1315 Lincoln Way E, Chambersburg
7970 Linglestown Rd., Harrisburg
3025 Babcock Blvd., Pittsburgh
101 Valley Vista Dr., State College
2505 Somerset Center Dr., Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Cannabidiol Oil – or CBD oil as it is commonly called – is hot right now.
People are buying it, selling it and investing in it.
CBD oil is made from hemp plants – whose cultivation was legalized under the 2018 federal farm bill, making the development of CBD-based products easier and less expensive.
The oil is touted as having many curative properties, from relieving anxiety, a claim most people familiar with CBD oil accept as likely true, to more far-reaching claims that it can be used to treat everything from the common cold to cancer. There are even CBD oil-based products for pets.
Overall, the U.S. CBD market could represent a $16 billion opportunity by 2025, according to a recent report by Cowen Inc., a New York-based investment firm.
However, skeptics of the oil’s benefits, and even some of its strongest supporters, sing a familiar refrain when it comes to investing in the CBD boom: “buyer beware.”
CBD oil-based products have been on the market since 2014 through what Geoff Whaling of the National Hemp Association described as a “narrow interpretation” of that year’s federal farm bill, which allowed for limited growing of hemp for experimental testing. The 2018 bill cleared the way for wider farming of hemp, and the use of CBD products made commercial sales more appealing to more traditional retailers.
The products – including vapes, salves, capsules, tinctures and gummies – can now be found on the shelves at a wide variety of retailers, from health food stores to truck stops. CBD shops are even opening in malls around the nation, while mainstream retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch and footwear chain DSW have started selling CBD products.
The Altoona-based Sheetz chain of convenience stores is among them. It has added CBD products to 140 of its 580 locations, including stores in Bethlehem, Harrisburg and York.
“We’re always listening to our customers,” said Brad Campbell, category manager for Sheetz. “As it becomes increasingly popular, we wanted to provide this.”
Campbell said that while the company had been eyeing the sale of CBD products for some time, the changes in the 2018 farm bill helped to legitimize the product.
“I’m not sure getting into this is something we would have considered otherwise,” he said.
Because the market is so relatively new and growing so quickly, sales have been likened to the Wild West, with little regulation or information on how CBD oil products are sold, claims about their benefits and the actual amount of CBD oil in products on the shelves.
Not all products on the market do or contain what they say.
Whaling noted that in 2015 the Food and Drug Administration tested a number of CBD oil products and found that 34 out of 38 contained less CBD oil than they claimed, with many containing little to no CBD oil at all.
Dr. Bruce Nicholson, a pain-management specialist with the Lehigh Valley Health Network, who was involved in helping to craft Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana bill, said similar tests conducted more recently by the University of Pennsylvania and John Hopkins University found that CBD levels in the products they tested were “all over the board.”
Needless to say, he has his reservations about the proliferations of CBD oil products and the claims made on their behalf.
“With something that you get at a trucks stop, you might as well put your money in the lottery,” Nicholson said. “Your odds of a good outcome are about the same.”
Many retailers tend to agree.
Sheetz’s Campbell said the company reviewed a number of CBD-oil products before choosing a handful of brands that the company felt were “strong” while still providing a variety of options.
Tom Crowe, who owns Shaffer’s Health Center in the Allentown Farmers Market, said he has tried a number of brands for his own chronic pain with mixed results.
“There’s so many companies out there that sell it, but 70 to 80 percent of them you’d want to throw in the trash,” he said.
Currently, Crowe said he uses and carries a line of CBD oil products that has greatly relieved his own back and knee pain and won positive feedback from his customers.
He said anyone looking to try CBD oil products should talk to someone with experience rather than just try something they find on a shelf. He notes CBD oil products are on the expensive side. His line ranges in price from $18 for a small bottle of oil to hundreds of dollars for a larger, stronger supply.
Generally, his customers tell him they’re using CBD products for joint pain, inflammation and anxiety. Many have been happy with the results, judging by the repeat sales.
“There’s been a tremendous increase in business,” he said.
Not enough testing
Nicholson’s biggest concern is the lack of testing that has been conducted on CBD-based products, noting that only one actual drug, used to treat epilepsy, has been approved by the FDA.
Everything else he said is mostly speculation.
“There’s a wide spectrum of claims, all of them unsubstantiated,” he said.
Nonetheless, he doesn’t believe the claims lack merit. He said a number of pre-clinical studies in animals have shown CBD oil to be helpful for treating inflammation, some types of pain and anxiety.
He said, anecdotally, he’s seen CBD oil products work on people as effectively as some prescription anti-anxiety medication. He is looking for approval to begin a study into the use of CBD oil.
“The problem is we really don’t understand it. We don’t know how it works,” he said.
He said the FDA has already gone after a number of companies for making false or unsubstantiated claims and is keeping a close eye on the industry.
For Whaling, who is an investor in the hemp industry as well as chairman of the National Hemp Association, he said he has a concern about the “money grab” underway in the CBD oil market.
“It is a money maker right now… but there are reputations at stake,” he said. “It’s a little unnerving to me that there’s so much unknown. People don’t know what they’re selling.”
His fear as an investor is that there is such a rush on CBD oil without proven benefit, the hemp industry will get a bad reputation even as it is just getting off the ground.
People looking to cash in on the CBD oil craze and invest in one of the growing number of CBD oil-producing companies should proceed with caution, said Nelson.
He said some companies will likely succeed, but he cautions that most of the publicly traded companies – the majority of which are being traded on the Canadian stock exchange – are still operating at a deficit.
He said investing in a CBD oil company now would be like investing in a tech startup during the late 1990s dot-com bubble.
“There are a lot of opportunities out there, but there a lot of disasters waiting to happen,” he said. “Right now you can’t pick which ones those will be.”
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