After a 24-year absence, Slurpees are back in the University City area, just in time for the summer heat.
Convenience store giant 7-Eleven has returned to the Charlotte area, bringing the Slurpee, its signature frozen soft drink, and other innovations.
One of the new locations is in Newell, about two miles south of the UNC Charlotte campus, at Old Concord Road and Rocky River Road West, at a former Sam’s Mart convenience store.
7-Eleven announced in January that it is buying out Sam’s Mart locations across the Carolinas.
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7-Eleven signs are in place at Newell as of July 1. Employees in red and black 7-Eleven uniforms now greet customers with a cheery “Welcome to 7-Eleven!”
Mike Fayad, a newly hired sales associate at the Newell location, said he’s seen a marked increase in business since 7-Eleven took over about four months ago.
“We have gained more neighborhood people,” Fayad said. “A lot of people are coming in, and regulars are saying good things about us.”
The store is much more brightly lit than it used to be, Fayad said. The new floor plan is also more open, with a central area that brings the checkout stations much closer to the front door. There’s a shiny new ATM, and, behind the counter, a food preparation area that looks more like a fast-food restaurant than a convenience store, with stainless steel racks and high-tech gadgets for preparing food.
“There will be all kinds of hot foods,” Fayad said. “Wings, pizza, hot dogs, taquitos – you name it!”
The store’s transformation is still in progress. Dozens of plastic crates in blue, yellow and red are piled high along the front window, one with a handwritten sign reading “cookies” taped to the side.
A thick training manual in a three-ring binder, titled “Shift Management,” sits on the counter by the cash register. Most of the 7-Eleven employees appear to be new hires.
Based on visits to the store, former employees from Sam’s Mart seem to have vanished, though 7-Eleven announced it would offer them jobs as part of the buyout. The Sam’s Mart staff at Newell was an appealingly international group, with a large contingent from Congo (formerly Zaire), always happy to speak French and discuss African politics. That broadened the store’s clientele to include college language students, professors and former Peace Corps volunteers.
But the global connections still seem strong. Fayad is Lebanese, and his coworker on this night shift is Liberian. As we were talking, a young woman came through the door and stopped in her tracks, her eyes wide with surprise.
“This is 7-Eleven, just like at home in Japan! It’s got the same logo and everything!” she exclaimed, explaining that she was a language student at UNCC.
She is correct: This American icon is now the subsidiary of a foreign company. Although 7-Eleven began in Dallas, Texas, in the 1920s, the company hit hard financial times and was rescued from bankruptcy by its Japanese franchisee in the 1980s.
The Japanese firm took full control in 1991. 7-Eleven is now the world’s largest convenience store operator, with more than 46,000 stores worldwide.
The firm is now actively expanding American operations. The Newell store is one of 55 former Sam’s Marts that 7-Eleven has taken over this year in the Carolinas. Another is on the north side of the UNCC campus, near the corner of Tryon Street and Mallard Creek Church Road.
At the moment, aside from a few varieties of 7-Eleven-brand potato chips, shelves at the Newell 7-Eleven look about the same as they did when this was Sam’s Mart.
But 7-Eleven has a flair for unexpected innovation. A few 7-Eleven stores in the Seattle area, for example, are partnering with Amazon.com to offer a new locker delivery system, giving Amazon’s online customers a secure place to pick up purchases they don’t feel comfortable sending to their homes. This competes with in-store pickup for internet purchases offered by Walmart, Best Buy and other retailers.
But one thing is sure: The Slurpee machine at Newell is in place and ready to chill the heat of summer, with four designated flavors such as cola and piña colada, and several more still unmarked, in chem-lab hues of intense purple, red and blue.