On 29 Palms Highway, which cuts straight up through the high desert to Joshua Tree, sits a stunning and popular local landmark that has now, albeit briefly, been transformed into a retro “Cheez-It Stop” this week.
Open only until Sunday, June 11, 2023, The Cheez-It Stop resides at The Station of Joshua Tree—a renovated 1949 Richfield Art Deco Streamline Moderne gas station owned by Glen Steigelman and Steve Halterman.
Decked out and “absurdly Cheez-It-ified” for a spring destination and oasis for local and traveling Cheez-It fans and photo opportunists alike, you can fill- er-up at the first ever “Cheez-It Pump” next to statue Big Josh, buy a variety of hard-to-find Cheez-It flavors, and load up on super “cheezy” merchandise such Cheez-It brand howling wolf T-shirts, socks, postcards, sunglasses, stickers, shoes, coolers, shot glasses, or way-too-cool just for the beach Cheez-It island-style shirts. Altogether, an Instragrammer’s paradise.
The Cheez-It® Stop at The Station in Joshua Tree, California, Thursday, June 6, 2023. Photo by Katie Gardner for Cheez-It®.
Halterman, who designed sets for fashion and advertising for over 20 years for brands like American Eagle to Dior, and Steigelman, an agent studio manager, together made extensive renovations to the space they purchased in 2011—including to Big Josh, a vintage Muffler Man they found at the local Sky Village Swap Meet—making The Station a must-stop-when-you-see-it retail space.
“The building needed a lot of work,” said Steigelman.” We moved out here, ran our studio, and then acted as owner-contractor for the renovation…It’s exceeded our expectations, but also it’s exceeded our idea of how much work it takes to actually run a store.”
Big Josh, who is easily seen driving while on Hwy 62, is a real showstopper and town favorite. Found by Steigelman and Halterman in parts at Sky Village, the original Muffler Man statue came from Poor Richard’s Mini Mart and Bait Shop near the Salton Sea.
“Who would think that an icon that lived down in Mecca and, at one point was completely broken and his head busted off, would find his way up to a gas station in Joshua Tree where little kids now want to be Big Josh for Halloween,” said Halterman. “That’s pretty special.”
The Station’s availability and flexibility were part of their business plan. It always included “a line item on [the] balance sheet” for film, video, weddings, photo shoot rentals, and promotional events exactly like The Cheez-It Stop, where space and storage are key.
In addition to all of the unique merchandise items brought to fill The Cheez-It Stop, “I think they brought in like 12 pallets of Cheez-its!,” said Steigelman.
Although they were updated frequently during the three-month planning process and through early renderings, they found the temporary transformation of the building as The Cheez-It Stop and all of the merchandise very impressive.
The “Cheez-It Pump” is an “over-sized nozzle that’s down on the ground,” said Halterman “So you pick up a bag out inside of the mustard-colored van and that they will shoot bags of Cheez-Its into your bag, sort of like a T-shirt launcher. It’s a pretty great idea!”
“I think they did a great job and it really lends itself to the way the building is already painted and the structure of the building. And of course, Big Josh looks great holding a humongous gas nozzle with Cheez-its coming out of it!”
Steigelman and Halterman said that the project makers were seeking a remote space for such an event and that many of The Station’s existing features and style were a good fit.
“I think that Big Josh had a lot to do with it. Also, we have a lot of classic cars outside that really fit the bill here,” he continued. “One of them is actually completely square and orange in color. So there were a lot of benefits to them coming to us. Also to be in Joshua Tree, which is such a popular spot.”
The Station’s exterior is already a unique attraction for visitors and those seeking photo ops. It includes a stylized vintage 1970s color palette of burnt orange and mustard yellow— almost ready-made for the Cheez-It brand, as well as parts of their own classic car fleet in rotation—the square-bodied California orange 1973 DIY kit car Boonie Bug from Popular Mechanics Magazine, a white 1968 fiberglass body Dune Buggy, and a yellow mustard 1965 Econoline “Mr. Mustard” (whose license plate reads “NOKTCHP.”) Visitors may recognize the latter as the same stylized van of Scooby Doo Mystery Machine fame.
After June 16th, The Station retail store will return to its own eclectic mix of custom T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, Native American blankets, candles, stickers, and postcards, as well as vintage vinyl records, posters, and collectible magazines such as Heavy Metal, High Times, MAD magazine and others that cater from motorcycle to surfing enthusiasts. All of their merchandise, including their own one-of-a-kind custom items, can only be bought in-store and not online.
“In preparation [for The Cheez-It Stop] we literally cleared all of our things out of the store and off the patio,” said Halterman, where they reserve storage space for just such occasions. “We have a lot of kid rides and things like that on the patio, which we removed and emptied out our store. Then we worked with them to add back in what they wanted. So our whole store is completely moved out. And if you’ve ever seen our store, that’s a lot of stuff. We occupy every inch of that building.”
The high desert has had some perfect temperatures this spring, especially over the last several weeks, balmy with soft winds and clear skies, bringing many visitors to Joshua Tree and making outlying Mojave Desert areas an even greater escape, especially with the pending summer school break. So the timing for such an event could not have been better.
“I love the excitement. We’ve had a lot of people reach out and say their kids are so excited!,” said Steigelman. “You know what’s amazing is there are so many closeted Cheez-It lovers that are just coming out!” said Steigelman.
“Everyone’s talking about Cheez-Its—how as a kid they crumbled them up and put ’em on their scrambled eggs. Everyone’s got a little story!”
The Cheez-It Stop is now open through Sunday, June 11, 2023, from 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. PST at The Station, 61943 Twenty-nine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, CA 92252.