Searching for a topic for my blog posts can be challenging, but not last Saturday! Because it was July 11th. 7/11. Get it? And I’m thinking of convenience stores I have known and (sometimes) loved. Haven’t set foot in one since before the pandemic, and I wonder how they’re all getting on, those small purveyors of our to-go coffee and soda and candy bars—those necessities that keep us adequately sugared and caffeinated throughout the day. Not to mention the beef jerky, so I won’t.
My first experience of a 7-11 was in July 1968, in Atlanta. We had just moved down there from New York. Mom, my sisters and I were left on our own from Monday to Friday with no car, while Dad traversed the highways and byways of the deep South as a salesman. His herculean task was to sell weird-looking Danish modern chairs, tables and lamps to Granny Lou’s Furniture Emporium in Ruralville, Tennessee (as you might guess, Dad usually struck out).
Meanwhile, Mo, C and I had a sole outdoor activity: walking over a mile to the 7-11, for slurpees. We’d trudge back to our apartment in the blistering July heat, savoring the sticky blue sweetness of our drinks until the very last slurp. Our lives revolved around that little daily trek. 7-11 became, looking back, the symbol of that long hot summer in a strange new place.
During our years traveling with children’s theatre, Steve and I became connoisseurs of the mini-marts of the Northeast, learning which chains had drinkable coffee and edible food (and which did not). Sometimes these roadside spots were the only places still open when we’d stop for the night in a small town. They offered indigestible dinners of hot dogs, chips and Twinkies. Not fine dining establishments, but they filled the bill in a pinch.
I had no idea how important the 7-11 is in Southeast Asian culture until Rose spent a year in Chiang Rai, Thailand as a teenager. She reported that they were EVERYWHERE. I still scratch my head imagining the marketing genius who was able to sell this crummy food to people whose native cuisine is so spectacular. Let’s see, shrimp Pad Thai at home, or stale pimento cheese sandwich in plastic wrap @ 7-11? Tough choice, right?
Back in the Philadelphia region, along came Wawa, and the quick market landscape changed forever. We went there, not because it was a last resort, but because the hoagies were really delicious, as was the rest of their fare. When a new Wawa opens (as one did in Rehoboth Beach a few years back) it is truly cause for celebration. A new era indeed for the lowly convenience store!
The Oreland Quik Mart is right down the street, owned by a lovely family. I rarely patronize the store, save the occasional milk run. But when I’m in there, I’m suddenly 12 again, at 7-11 in Doraville, Georgia, when life was simple and a slurpee could turn the whole day around.