7-Eleven Wants Americans to Love It as Much as the Japanese Do
The home of the Slurpee is now being supercharged by the pandemic
Let’s get something out of the way: You probably do not have the most positive memories of 7-Eleven. The weary-looking hot dogs and taquitos on mechanical rollers, the trauma of Slurpee brain freezes and parking lot heartbreaks past, the strange prominence of its stores in local crime stories. In many parts, 7-Eleven is practically shorthand for communal microwaves, American Spirits, and bland corporate sameness.
On a cultural level, it’s also tough to disentangle the chain from its less than stellar role in stoner comedies, horror stories, and, of course, an implicit link to The Simpsons (and its Squishee-peddling Kwik-E-Mart). Given that 7-Eleven is the largest company of its kind by a big margin, it also often serves as a stand-in for the entire convenience store industry. Depending on where you are, any place with Cheddar & Sour Cream Ruffles could reasonably be called a 7-Eleven. “Some people call it a convenience store. In New York, it’s the bodega,” explains Jason Diamond, author of suburb-themed cultural study The Sprawl. “But the 7-Eleven is a definite brand you know — sort of like how there are multiple search engines, but you always ‘Google’ something.”
As a business, 7-Eleven is something akin to the McDonald’s of convenience stores, but considering that 7-Eleven is both older and bigger than Mickey D’s, maybe McDonald’s is really the 7-Eleven of fast food.
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Now, despite its reputation, 7-Eleven and the convenience store world are undergoing a major recalibration brought on by the unexpected arrival and staying power of Covid-19. Back in March, with the pandemic bearing down on the United States, 7-Eleven announced plans to hire 20,000 workers to keep stores clean amid fears of contagion and shelves stocked amid fears of shortages. “7-Eleven is a neighborhood store and it’s our priority to serve the communities in which we operate during this unprecedented…