For the last several years, Stewart’s Shops Corp. has plowed $45 to $50 million annually into building and renovating its homegrown convenience store chain.
The Saratoga Springs-based company added four new stores in 2022 to its more than 350 locations across nearly three dozen counties in New York and Vermont, helping push the overall count of U.S. convenience stores to 150,174.
That total reversed a four-year slip from 154,958 stores in 2018, according to NACS, founded as the National Association of Convenience Stores, the industry’s international trade group.
The NACS census, released last week, said the U.S. count was up 1.5% from a year earlier, but still off the past decade’s high-water mark in 2018. Some three-quarters of stores sell gasoline, representing about 80% of all motor fuels sold in the country, according to NACS.
New York’s just over 7,900 sites ranked No. 4 in store count, NACS said. Texas led the rankings followed by California and Florida.
The report credited single-store operators for much of the year-over-year growth. At more than 90,400 stores, they represent 60% of all convenience stores.
The retail-member roster of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, a separate trade group, runs the gamut from single stores that serve as the only grocer in remote locales to modest regional chains with fuel-supplier roots.
Operating upstate, too, are national players, such as 7-Eleven Speedway, which evolved from the merger of already-big convenience chains into 14,000 locations throughout North America, and EG America, parent to Cumberland Farms in the Northeast, TomThumb in the South and Minit Mart in the Midwest.
Jeff Lenard, vice president for strategic industry initiatives at NACS, said the increase in store count can be attributed in part to “the value of convenience,” even if the coronavirus pandemic and its work-from-home aftermath upended traditional rush-hour traffic patterns at stores.
“Convenience stores sell immediate consumption – approximately 80% of items are consumed within 30 minutes,” he said. The pandemic brought an increase in sales of pantry staples, he noted, and now the work-from-home trend is boosting mid-morning and mid-afternoon sales “as people look to get out of the house for a break.”
The stores’ smaller formats made them “more immune” to the pressures of the pandemic because they allow for quick in and out, Lenard said. They were deemed essential businesses at the pandemic’s start.
In a video recap of 2022 posted to its website, Stewart’s highlighted that size and convenience: “At Stewart’s Shops, we believe smaller is nicer,” it intones.
The recap shows Stewart’s invested $50 million in construction last year – as it has done annually since 2019, except in 2020 when $45 million invested.
In addition to adding four stores last year, Stewart’s rebuilt 11 smaller shops and remodeled 30 stores, on par with prior years.
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]