7-11 Returns to NYC to Take On Bodegas

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7-11 convenience stores are returning to Manhattan — Slurpees and all— after leaving the island more than 20 years ago due to distribution problems. The retail chain now features tiny stores designed to take on locally owned markets and bodegas. Dina Temple-Raston reports it's just the latest national chain to try its hand on the island.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Suburbs to city now: 7-Elevens are returning to Manhattan. The last 7-Eleven closed there about a dozen years ago. New Yorkers love their small bodega stores, and some New Yorkers worry they won't survive another onslaught from 7-Eleven. Here's reporter Dina Temple-Raston.

(Soundbite of CO2 cannisters)

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON reporting:

That is the sound of CO2 cannisters. Every pop and shush represents one Slurpee, a crushed ice-soda confection dropping into a cup at the first 7-Eleven to appear in Manhattan in 23 years.

(Soundbite of CO2 cannisters)

TEMPLE-RASTON: One recent sweltering day, the lines at the Slurpee machine at the back of the Park Avenue South store were more than a dozen deep. Jimmy Selanke(ph), a transplanted Californian, has the franchise.

(Soundbite of CO2 cannisters)

Mr. JIMMY SELANKE (7-Eleven Franchise Owner): I think that's the biggest hit because we're number one in the country in Slurpee sales. We'll be number one for the first two weeks to last month, and it's been our biggest hit. We sell average a thousand cups a day.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The Slurpee capital of the world apparently is Winnipeg, Canada. This New York City store's within striking range of the US sales record. There are delivery men in uniform, mothers with children and two Park Department workers, Slater Gray(ph) and Gabrielle O'Hyan(ph), standing in the Slurpee line. Both young women said that their trip to 7-Eleven was motivated by nostalgia.

Unidentified Woman #1: I think I had a Slurpee 15 years ago. Yeah, I always have cherry mixed with Coke.

Unidentified Woman #2: My roommate came down when it opened, and she told me about it and we were really excited. The 7-Eleven's been a part of my childhood.

TEMPLE-RASTON: 7-Eleven left Manhattan decades ago because it couldn't distribute products sufficiently. They say computer merchandise tracking has solved that problem. Now their challenge is to convince New Yorkers to shop at a chain instead of the family run bodegas or local Korean-owned delis sprinkled throughout the city. The Bodega Association of America is counting on 7-Eleven's corporate culture to turn off New Yorkers. Its officials say the personal relationships neighbors forge with local store owners will allow the small stores to stand up to the new competition.

Mr. DARLYN PORTES(ph) (Marketing Director, Bodega Association of America): Bodega's more comfortable to shop because you have the trust with the owner of the bodega.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Darlyn Portes is the marketing director of the Bodega Association of America.

Mr. PORTES: He could do any favor. You say, `Listen, I don't have no money right now. Just give me this and I'll give it to you tomorrow.' 7-Eleven will not do that. These are corporations; it's a chain of stores. You're not going to say, `Oh, how much is this milk?' `$3.' `Oh, I only have two.' You cannot take that milk out of the store.

TEMPLE-RASTON: 7-Eleven, for its part, is playing down the competition. Kevin Cooper is a manager at corporate headquarters in Dallas.

Mr. KEVIN COOPER (Corporate Manager, 7-Eleven): Now New York City's a big city and there's lots of opportunity. Folks in New York have been asking us to come back for a long time, and we think that there's certainly a big enough pie for everybody to share in.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The appearance of 7-Elevens on the island are part of a trend. In the past several months, Home Depot stores have appeared alongside the boutiques on Lexington Avenue and Broadway. The Time Warner Center on 59th across from Central Park looks suspiciously like a suburban mall. 7-Eleven will open a second store at Third Avenue and 82nd later this month, and another location just blocks away from the East River in October. Officials expect Slurpee sales will be huge. For NPR News, I'm Dina Temple-Raston.

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. There's more to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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