While hometown chain Wawa spent much of the 2000s closing its smaller city stores and expanding in the suburbs, 7-Eleven has eyed urban areas with all the fervor of a sweaty Little Leaguer reaching for a Slurpee.
Wawa has six stores in Center City (40 citywide), with suburban locations better suited to its gas-station business and hungry grab-and-go customers craving freshly made grub. "Our unique product line requires more square footage, as well as the additional exterior space needed to accommodate fuel at new stores," Wawa spokeswoman Lori Bruce said.
Meanwhile, 7-Eleven has slimmed its footprint and tailored its offerings to go after the city crowd. The chain has 54 stores in Philadelphia, with 10 in Center City, another two under construction at 8th and Walnut streets and 9th and Market streets, and five more planned to open in 2013.
That market saturation is intentional, a company spokeswoman said. "The walk-up stores in the inner-city can be quite successful," said Margaret Chablis, spokeswoman for the Dallas-based chain, which is the largest convenience-store chain globally with 49,000 stores worldwide.
Demographic trends helped spur that convenience-store boom, according to Paul Levy of the Center City District. With more hotels and growth in both the residential and office-worker populations, Center City keeps the cash registers at convenience stores busy, Levy said. Including drug stores that sell convenience items and snacks, Center City has about 50 convenience stores, he added.
Not everyone thanks heaven for 7-Elevens, though.
Some in Old City - where the neighborhood motto is "Independent by Design" - successfully fought a proposed 7-Eleven at Chestnut and Strawberry streets about five years ago, objecting to its 24-hour business model. They're mobilizing again to oppose a 7-Eleven now proposed for the old Regent Shoes store on Market Street near 3rd.
Critics fear such a store would leave sidewalks lined with litter, draw panhandlers at all hours and create parking headaches (a vacant dirt lot adjoins the site proposed), said Richard Thom, chairman of the Old City Civic Association's developments committee.
"We've spent years trying to raise the bar here, so no one's thrilled to have this kind of 24-hour business (proposed) here," Thom said.
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