By Mickey Gorman and Allison Hagan
Lexington residents no longer need to travel great distances to quench their Slurpee cravings. 7-Eleven has finally come to town.
The franchise, part of the largest convenience-store operator in the world, replaced the former Rennie’s on North Lee Highway at the beginning of August, and anticipates a grand opening later this month after construction is complete.
The 7-Eleven presence was felt immediately when the company erected its iconic green, orange, and red symbol atop the store and gas station. The location had been operated by Rennie Petroleum Corp., a small chain based in Richmond, which filed for bankruptcy in 2007.
The new franchise has removed its sign temporarily to finish construction, but wanted to announce its presence in Lexington.
Previously, the closest 7-Eleven to Lexington was in Lynchburg. Employee Stephen Benjamin Taylor Tillotson believes that 7-Eleven was brought in to compete with the Sheetz that is expected to open in Lexington in May.
“I think one of the big reasons of actually changing to 7-Eleven is being able to compete with a bigger name,” Tillotson said.
He emphasized the “stronghold” Sheetz has on Virginia, but did not seem as concerned with the potential competition from several existing Stop-In convenience stores already in Lexington and Rockbridge County.
“I think one of the advantages…they would have is that it’s a good area they’ve been placed in,” he said.
Tillotson had worked at the Hunter Hill convenience store before 7-Eleven moved in, and was quick to point out the differences between the old and new owner. 7-Eleven stores offer more brand variety in the drinks and snacks, he said. For example, the franchise has an exclusive partnership with energy drink maker Red Bull that enables it to offer the beverage at the lowest prices. Other major changes include a hot food bar, a wine rack and a gourmet coffee bar.
The franchise also runs a number of promotions throughout the year, including seasonal coffee drinks with decorative cups during the holiday season. During election season, customers had a choice to enjoy their coffee in either a Romney or Obama cup. In fact, for the past four election cycles, the brand was accurately able to predict the winning candidate based on cup sales.
7-Eleven is just one of the recent changes at the Hunter Hill gas station. In January, frozen yogurt shop Sweet Frog opened its doors. The complex also boasts a Subway restaurant.
Between the Sweet Frog and the 7-Eleven, the Marathon complex can expect even more support from the student community.
“Everyone was crazy about the Slurpees,” said Tillotson. “I think one of the big things too that’s going to play a part in making it successful is it’s open 24/7 now” – despite the name. “They don’t have to make it here by 10 o’clock to get the Slurpee or…munchies. You can stop in here whenever and so that’s definitely something that will appeal to a college student.”
The 7-Eleven appeals to more than just the local college students. Because the gas station and store are located near Rockbridge County High School, the location has always seen a steady flow of younger patrons. Tillotson believes there has been a slight increase in foot traffic from the high school since the 7-Eleven has moved in.
A privately owned franchise-based company, 7-Eleven is the largest convenience store operator in the world with approximately 46,000 stores. The company is operated under parent company Seven & I Holdings, and the American division of the company is 7-Eleven Inc. based in Dallas.