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Convenience store closing

February 13, 1998

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

They're sad to see it closing, not only because it's a convenient place to grab a quick lunch but also because it's another business leaving downtown Hagerstown.

Still, regular customers Ellen Whittington and Nancy Lapole said they couldn't resist helping to empty the quickly thinning shelves at the 7-Eleven store on the corner of West Franklin and North Prospect streets Friday.

"I figure, go for them bargains. Why not?" said Whittington, 57, of Hagerstown, who made two trips Thursday and another on Friday to stock up on heavily discounted juices, candy, chips, cough drops, hot sausages and peanut butter crackers.

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Huge red signs posted in the store windows announced the store was closing at the end of business Sunday and that most of the store's stock - excluding fresh staples like milk and bread, doughnuts and deli items - had been marked down 75 percent.

The 24-hour convenience store will close its doors as of 7 a.m. Monday, the victim of a corporate decision that the store wasn't profitable enough, a spokeswoman said.

The Southland Corp. took over the store, which opened in January 1984, when its franchisee retired last August, said Margaret Chabris, public relations manager for Southland 7-Eleven stores.

"While there were some sales increases, it just wasn't significant enough to play in with the long-term strategy," Chabris said by phone from Southland headquarters in Dallas.

About six or seven people will lose their jobs because of the closing, she said.

The company has contacted franchisees in the area to let them know the employees will be available, Chabris said.

Since its leveraged buyout in 1987, the Southland Corp. has been "aggressively pruning" the number of corporate-run stores based on projections of long-term profitability, she said.

The intention was to pour money into remodeling and state-of-the-art technology at the remaining stores, Chabris said.

"Each store's sales and profits has to justify the investment," she said.

The company pared its holdings from about 8,000 stores in the mid- to late 1980s to about 5,000 before it started to build some new stores last year, Chabris said.

Close to 100 stores were built last year, and more than 150 new stores will be built this year, she said.

The Hagerstown area has lost several 7-Elevens, including stores on Pennsylvania Avenue and Frederick Street.

The three remaining Hagerstown-area 7-Eleven stores - 19340 Leitersburg Pike, 1623 Dual Highway and 802 Salem Ave. - are operated by franchisees, Chabris said.

While he's sorry to see any business close in the city, Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said he hates to see the 7-Eleven go because it has been so convenient for residents and him personally.

"I really do think it's a shame," Bruchey said. "I just stopped there Wednesday to get my coffee."

The store's closing shouldn't be seen as a negative in the city's downtown business development efforts, said Jim Bryan, who serves on the city's downtown marketing committee.

"There will always be businesses starting up, and there will always be businesses closing down," Bryan said. "What a business like that closes, it opens up an opportunity for another business."

Bryan said he's sure the Southland Corp. didn't make the decision lightly.

It's understandable, from a business standpoint, if the store wasn't doing a high enough volume to justify keeping it open, he said.

A lot of emergency services workers and police officers will miss the store, especially late at night, said Brent Bankson, a paramedic for Community Rescue Service.

"It's the only thing that's open on this side of town," Bankson said.

With only a half-hour lunch break at Hagerstown Laundry and Dry Cleaning Co. on West Franklin Street, co-workers Whittington and Lapole said it has been convenient to have the 7-Eleven store just a short walk down from work when you neglect to pack a lunch.

"I'm going to miss it. Coming over here, grab something quick," said Lapole, 51, of Hagerstown.

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