By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
The drive can be maddening and to some, dangerous.
When traffic backs up in front of the Dairy Queen on Pershing Boulevard in Cheyenne, it really backs up.
The street turns into a parking lot, according to a popular meme circulating on local social media channels.
And the co-owner of the Dairy Queen knows why: his restaurant sells a quality product. As a result, his employees serve around 400 cars per day which often spill out onto the busy roadway.
Randy Filbin is also aware that the fast food and ice cream shop’s longtime location is not the most ideal, especially at particularly busy times.
It can be a struggle having a small parking lot and a large customer base, but Filbin, his father and their business partner do their best to make things work.
“We’ve gotten some grief because our lobby hasn’t reopened since COVID, but I don’t think a lot of people understand about coming out of this pandemic and the workforce shortage,” Filbin told Cowboy State Daily on Monday. “Now, there’s a lot of competition to hire people. In March, when I normally would have 47 to 50 employees, I was down to 24. We were struggling.”
Filbin’s intent is to get enough staff to reopen the Dairy Queen lobby by the end of the month, but he pointed out that even once the lobby opens, there will still likely be some traffic on Pershing Boulevard.
Is It Really That Bad?
Although some residents predict traffic fatalities will result because of the congestion, those claims may be a bit hyperbolic.
According to Cheyenne Police Department spokeswoman Alex Farkas, 10 traffic incidents occurred in the Dairy Queen area in the last year. Five of those occurred at the Dairy Queen address itself and five happened near the restaurant between Duff Avenue and Pershing Boulevard.
Of those 10 incidents, one was directly related to the drive-thru. A collision took place as a driver was turning into the location.
There were two rear endings at the Dairy Queen, one of which involved a single vehicle backing into something and another related to a driver being under the influence.
The police department also received a traffic complaint from the Dairy Queen address on June 2 regarding speeding and reckless driving.
Filbin said it was likely that the Dairy Queen has outgrown its location after more than 40 years in its spot on Pershing Boulevard, but added that in today’s economy, moving the business could be a huge risk.
“Sometimes when you move locations, you hurt your business by doing so,” Filbin said.
“It’s just a really scary investment when you’re talking about $2.5 to maybe $3 million with a staggered workforce,” he said. We’ve also talked about opening another location, but when you’re having trouble staffing one, what do you think is going to happen at another?”
Looking at another local hot spot, Chick-Fil-A can have dozens of cars waiting in its drive-thru lines as well.
But they have the benefit of data which shows wherever they put a franchise, people will follow. So they know they’ve got to build adequate space for the traffic — which they did 7 years ago when Cheyenne’s first Chick-Fil-A drive-thru opened up.
And the people came. So much so that occasionally the traffic spills over there too — and they have significantly more space.
A recent drive-thru study showed Chick-Fil-A at the top of its class with 77% of its drive-thru experiences having three or more cars in line while 35.5 percent had six or more cars in line. For context, McDonald’s claimed the second-busiest drive thru, and only 41.8 percent of its drive thrus had three or more cars and 9.1 percent had six or more.
This information is interesting but it won’t do anything for Filbin. He’s already in place and there’s no way to expand.
As for the traffic issues, he has spoken with the Cheyenne Police Department and asked whether there is anything they can do.
“They said that as long as a car has their turn signal on to indicate they’re going into the restaurant, then that is the legal thing to do,” Filbin said. “It might not be the safest thing, but it is the legal one.”
Sgt. Ryan Trimble, Cheyenne police’s traffic safety supervisor, told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that Filbin was right.
As long as no one is blocking the Duff/Pershing intersection or the crosswalk and the left lane of traffic is clear, the traffic congestion into Dairy Queen might be a nuisance, but not illegal.
“If a person is unable to get into the parking lot, they are allowed to remain in the roadway as long as they’re not completely stopping traffic,” Trimble said. “Same rules apply when turning left into the parking lot.”
The sergeant said Cheyenne police see traffic congestion at other places besides Dairy Queen too. Some schools have drop-off lines so long they actually do impede traffic.
Farkas said the Dairy Queen traffic jams were a good reminder for drivers to be aware of their surroundings and to slow down in area where congestion might be an issue.