New York doesn’t exactly have a shortage of places to pick up a snack or newspaper. So it might sound surprising that the maker of the Slurpee is trying to take Manhattan -- especially since the last time 7-Eleven planted stakes in Manhattan, a generation ago, it didn’t go so well.
“You know, the industry was different then. It was more about cigarettes and beer,” says Ken Barnes, the company’s regional development director.
Lots of places sold those commodities and 7-Eleven couldn’t compete. The company closed its few Manhattan stores in the early 80s. But now, it wants to grow, and fast, and New York is 7-Eleven's number one priority.
“Where are we not where we could be the fastest and have the most number of stores?” Barnes says.
Within five years, 7-Eleven could be nearly as ubiquitous in Manhattan as Starbucks. The company plans to open at least 30 new stores a year.
Last month, Neil Ghezzar surveyed his nearly-finished franchise on the Upper West Side.
“Oh, it’s fantastic,” he says, as construction crews put finishing touches on the Slurpee machines and aisles.
Ghezzar quit a career in banking when he read that 7-Eleven had big plans for New York.
“Just to be my own boss finally is kind of exciting,” Ghezzar says.
Today’s 7-Elevens compete more on food than commodities like cigarettes. Some have fruit slices and Kosher goods. There are also the usual chicken wings, burritos, and Slurpees that the company hopes will appeal to New Yorkers on the move.
And, there’s another reason 7-Eleven believes it can take Manhattan. Because of the downturn, there are more open storefronts.
“There are properties that are available that five years ago, I wouldn’t be able to touch,” says Barnes.
That’s bad news for shop owners like Kyung Chan Yu.
“I don’t know. I don’t know why they do that to me?” he says as he stands in the corner deli in Chelsea he’s owned for years.
After 7-Eleven opened next door recently, his sales are down 25 percent.
“Time by time, little by little, they’re taking my customers,” he laments.
And, 7-Eleven has another competitive advantage: It’s exempt from Mayor Bloomberg’s big soda ban.