The retailer turned heads last week when it revealed it’s selling all of its c-stores. But its employees, landlords and the industry have more questions than answers about the company’s future.

Everything we know about SQRL’s sudden sale and ongoing challenges

Permission granted by SQRL

Development company SQRL Holdings shook the c-store industry last week when it revealed that it has agreed to sell all of its 300-plus convenience stores to Gas Hub LLC, a fairly unknown entity in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

In a company memo obtained by C-Store Dive, SQRL’s leadership noted that the deal to sell its stores — branded as SQRL Service Stations — aims to resolve “significant liquidity issues” the retailer has faced over the past several months. 

Beyond this tidbit of information, SQRL’s employees, landlords and the broader c-store industry still have more questions than answers about this move. Multiple sources, including a current corporate SQRL employee and a landlord who SQRL pays rent to — who both asked not to be identified to avoid retaliation — said that SQRL has been reticent about what this deal means for the future of the company, its stores and its staff.

Here’s what C-Store Dive knows so far about SQRL’s deal with Gas Hub, and how it ties into the Little Rock, Arkansas-based company’s larger situation.

What is Gas Hub?

Arguably the biggest question SQRL stakeholders and industry observers want to know is what — and who — is Gas Hub.

The company, based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was registered in early February and is run by Jamal Hizam, also of Baton Rouge, according to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s website. 

In an interview, SQRL’s Chief Financial Officer James Irvine declined to share information on Gas Hub, only noting that Hizam is the owner, and that he’s been around the c-store industry “for most of his career.” Brokerage firm Elifin’s website showed earlier this month that Hizam owns at least two other convenience stores in the Baton Rouge area. 

Online database Bizapedia lists Jamal Hizam as the president of several other businesses in Louisiana since 2002, including convenience stores and at least one tobacco outlet, though it is unclear if the same person oversees all of these businesses. 

Hizam did not respond to multiple requests to comment.

What liquidity issues is SQRL facing?

Although SQRL’s memo did not specify what liquidity issues it’s facing, multiple sources have noted that SQRL has recently dealt with numerous financial disputes. Those have included several lawsuits totaling millions of dollars it allegedly owes to vendors, as well as people indicating that SQRL has not repaid money it owes former employees.

For instance, a former district manager with SQRL who was let go from the company in late December amid its several rounds of layoffs said that as of April 5, the company still owes him about $2,000 worth of expense reimbursements for airfare, meals and rental cars.

This aligns with the experience of Fernando Loyola, a former employee who worked in training and development for SQRL. Loyola told the Arkansas Business Journal this week that SQRL had employees pay for store expenses with their own credit card, and that he’s currently owed about $1,000 from the company.

SQRL is also currently being investigated by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division for the third time since 2021. The DOL confirmed that the first two cases were due to payroll mishaps.

Are SQRL’s stores currently open?

According to SQRL’s website, the company has about 320 convenience stores across 20 states. But it remains unclear exactly how many of those are actually open and operating.

Where SQRL has stores

While it’s unclear how many of them are currently open, this map shows where the stores listed on SQRL’s website are located as of April 11.

In late February, the Arkansas Business Journal found that only five of 28 SQRL stores in central, western and northern Arkansas that the paper checked were open, and only two had functioning fuel pumps. Last month, SQRL publicly announced plans to reopen all 210 locations it acquired from Blue Owl by mid June. 

When the deal with Gas Hub was agreed upon, a corporate SQRL employee said that SQRL closed all of its locations to make this sale. When asked to comment on this detail, Irvine refuted that, instead saying SQRL is “opening more stores in anticipation” of finalizing the deal with Gas Hub.

Everything we know about SQRL’s sudden sale and ongoing challenges

Retrieved from SQRL.  

What will happen to SQRL’s brand?

While Irvine declined to comment when asked what banner SQRL’s stores will use moving forward, public records do not show that Gas Hub currently has its own chain of convenience stores. 

This indicates there are two potential futures for SQRL-branded stores: They will keep their current banner under Gas Hub’s ownership, or they’ll be sold once again to other entities and rebranded as such.

Where is Blake Smith?

Although Irving declined to comment when asked how the deal, once closed, will impact SQRL’s leadership and its staff moving forward, the memo notes that “there will be administrative changes in the coming weeks” as SQRL transitions ownership.

Until these changes are made, it’s unclear what role Blake Smith, SQRL’s founder, plays in all of this. According to the Arkansas Business Journal, Smith stepped away from the company in February due to health reasons, with Adam Lusthaus, a SQRL partner, becoming the new CEO.

However, a current corporate SQRL employee said earlier this month that they had no knowledge of Smith stepping down from his role. When asked earlier this month to confirm if this shift has happened, Irvine said he “can’t confirm or deny that one.”

Smith has not responded to multiple requests to comment in the days since the Gas Hub deal surfaced.

  • SQRL agrees to sell c-store arm to Louisiana company By Brett Dworski • April 11, 2024
  • SQRL under investigation by the Department of Labor By Brett Dworski • April 5, 2024

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