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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: The good-old American convenience store — you know, a place to pick up some cigarettes, a Slurpee and if you're desperate, one of those wrinkled rotating hot dogs. But as Andrea Gardner explains, one Japanese company has quietly slipped into four California locations offering a whole new to shop at the corner mini-mart.
ANDREA GARDNER: Down on the trendy strip known as the Promenade in Santa Monica, customers dart in and out of a new convenience store. It's called Famima!! And look out 7-Eleven, it'll see your Big Gulp and raise you a mocha latte.
Inside you'll find all the basic convenience-store wares: aspirin, bubble gum, colas and chips. But then more shi-shi stuff like gourmet take-out meals: cartons of paella, next to pad Thai, grilled vegetables stacked above a pile of paninis. And Famima!! looks different, with dark-stained wood floors, stainless steel shelves and lime green walls. Customers seem to like it.
CUSTOMERS:"It's really modern-looking and clean"......."You can tell the look is different. It's more spunky. Like you know it's more, you can tell it's got a like Japanese look to it"........"They got the chips all in a line, in one section, nice and neat, it's not all over the place."
But will Americans really pay more for a fancy atmosphere at a basic convenience store? Raymond Saylor is Famima!!'s only American executive, and he says the company's discovered a gap in the marketplace.
RAYMOND SAYLOR: Americans tend to want, at this level, a healthy product, but they are also on-the-go, so we have to be willing to do both: convenient and healthy.
Saylor says there aren't enough companies providing fresh takeout food. That's where Famima!! comes in. Shopping analyst Candice Corlett says the move is well-timed.
CANDICE CORLETT: It's no longer about a small space where you pick up your beverage and your newspaper while your gas tank's being filled. Convenience now has a much broader definition. You might want to go in and do some of your weekly shopping in this convenience store.
Corlett says convenience stores saw a change coming about five years ago. Gasoline sales weakened as more customers switched to pumps at Wal-Mart and Costco. Owners of smaller chains in the Midwest took the hint and added rows of refrigerated display cases. British company Tesco will soon roll out a chain of chic mini-marts in the US. Even 7-Eleven is testing out upscale stores.
But even upscale has its price limits. A sushi box costs $7.50. The company says it wants to bring that down and that might help hook customers like Ryan Calavano, who eyed a $4 plate of grilled vegetables but left empty-handed.
RYAN CALAVANO: It seems like a nice place to stop in and get something on my break. I looked at the prices and it looked a little high, which I was actually paying attention to.
And if this new evolved mini-mart can win over folks like Ryan, that shriveled, sweaty convenience-store hot dog could soon be on its last rotation.
In Los Angeles, I'm Andrea Gardner for Marketplace.