As Wisconsin’s right-wing convenience store empire expands, what happens to contraception access?
Kwik Trip, the Midwest’s favorite place for a morning donut, does not sell contraceptives at the 700-odd gas stations and convenience stores it operates around the region. This is a matter of company policy, as one Kwik Trip worker explained to me a few months ago, because Kwik Trip is a “family company.”
This means that as Kwik Trip continues its quest for convenience dominance by opening new locations and buying up competitor chains, it will also flip some stores that previously sold condoms. Most recently, Kwik Trip announced plans to purchase the Madison-based chain Stop-N-Go, which has 36 locations spanning Dane, Rock, and Milwaukee Counties. Like any other gas station out there, Stop-N-Go trades on low fuel prices, quick snacks, and miscellaneous amenities. As at most other gas stations, those amenities include condoms. In an email, Stop-N-Go spokesperson Bill Ripley told me that the chain’s locations currently sell Trojan brand condoms. When asked what the future holds for this part of the inventory, Ripley said he “cannot speak for Kwik Trip’s plans.”
Basically, if you’ve ever made an emergency condom stop at places like the Winnebago Street Stop-N-Go, you might not have that option in the very near future.
I sought out official answers on why Kwik Trip doesn’t sell condoms, but Kwik Trip has not responded to repeated requests for comment for this story.
Kwik Trip has a massive following of dedicated fans who congregate in a public Facebook group called Wisconsin Kwik Trip Enthusiasts, so I put the question to the group’s 63,000 members. The responses varied, but basically echoed the aforementioned Kwik Trip worker’s understanding that it all had to do with the company’s ideas about family values.This question prompted so many responses that the moderators eventually turned off commenting on the post.
Kwik Trip founder Don Zietlow is a noted donor to a variety of Republican politicians. Between January 2010 and June 2017, members of the Zietlow family and other Kwik Trip employees donated $90,000 to former governor Scott Walker’s campaigns. In 2017, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation awarded Kwik Trip $21 million in income tax credits for an expansion in the La Crosse area. Under the Walker administration, over 91,000 Wisconsinites lost FoodShare benefits due to harsh eligibility requirements in a state where 10 percent of families qualify as food-insecure. Kwik Trip is also listed as a sustaining sponsor of the charitable foundation for the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which is in theory a business lobbying organization but in practice the most powerful right-wing pressure group in the state.
Zietlow has also supported Donald Trump’s presidential campaigns. In 2016, the Zietlow family hosted a fundraiser for Trump in La Crosse. Zietlow donated a total of $135,000 to the Trump Victory super PAC from 2016 to 2017. Despite Kwik Trip’s claim to embody family values, the company’s founders have repeatedly donated to a fascist political movement that has repeatedly terrorized migrant families at the border, and advanced a slew of other harmful and corrupt policies.
Convenience stores are not known for their large market share in the multi-billion-dollar global condom market. Data surrounding the impact of selling contraceptives at gas stations or convenience stores is minimal to none.
Still, Kwik Trip’s expansion plans are ambitious enough to make access to contraceptives at least a little bit less convenient. In 2017, Kwik Trip purchased PDQ, a Middleton-based convenience store chain founded in 1948 with over 30 locations in the Madison and Milwaukee area. Previous PDQ employees confirmed for me that the stores sold condoms. Kwik Trip has also partnered with Madison-based delivery startup EatStreet to deliver a variety of hot foods and late-night snacks right to your door.
“While businesses and other institutions have the right to decide whether or not they offer contraception, or any other product for that matter, it is always a bit disheartening whenever access to prevention methods is limited in any way,” says Marc Perry, Executive Director of Community Action of Rock and Walworth County.
According to a statement from the Rock County Public Health Department, Rock County is currently ranked third in the state of Wisconsin for new positive STI cases. There are currently eight Kwik Trips in Rock County, and seven Stop-N-Go locations.
“Unfortunately, sexuality and sexual health remain largely taboo subjects; especially when it comes to educating our youth,” Perry says. “We know for a fact that youth whom receive comprehensive sex education and know-how to access resources are more likely to delay sexual activity and are more likely to use condoms when they choose to engage in sexual activity.”
And yes, the lack of condoms at Kwik Trip can make for some frustrating ordeals. Madison musician and freelance writer Allison Geyer recounted a less than-savory-ending to a night out in Kwik Trip’s hometown of La Crosse a few years back. “One time I had to walk like two miles to a Walgreens in La Crosse late at night for this exact reason,” Geyer said in a tweet. Kwik Trip’s lack of quick protection “killed the mood,” she says.
A Kwik Trip employee named Amber says that the lack of condoms in the stores isn’t just company practice but also contractually enshrined.“When Don bought out his business partner, the no selling of condoms in the store was written into the contract,” Amber says. “Kwik Trip contractually cannot sell condoms as long as Don is still alive.”
Kwik Trip did not respond to my attempts to verify this. Amber said that she learned the information from an auditor who helps with acquisitions. “When we buy out a store, we don’t pay for the condom and magazine inventory either. That’s in all the contracts of buying out another store,” she says.
Zietlow has touted the policy with pride in the past, telling Minnesota’s Houston County News in 2010: “We don’t sell Playboy, we don’t sell Playgirl and we don’t sell condoms. It’s a moral issue with our family, so you won’t find those items in a Kwik Trip.”
While it is possible to purchase contraceptives elsewhere or even find them for free, Kwik Trip’s political money trail reveals all this “family values” stuff for the hollow double-speak it is. For those wishing to protest with their gas dollars (or donut dollars or weird breakfast burrito dollars), Kwik Trip’s continued growth in the Midwest makes opting out for a different chain that much harder.
All of these conflicting realities exist alongside the brutal truths of the fossil fuel industry’s effect on our state, politics, and planet. An apt American microcosm, Kwik Trip’s manifest gas-tiny highlights the perversity of capitalism and the power that big business exerts over our daily choices. Kwik Trip doesn’t want Wisconsinites to wrap it up, but corners the market on convenient baked goods, quick pantry restocks, and liquid Karuba gold, with help from the state’s public coffers. They’ll see you next time, whether you like it or not.
There’s more where this came from.
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