|Today's post highlights Shelby County, TN, retail, as well as that of DeSoto County, MS.|
Two entries to the Lost Histories of Mid-South Retail series in one week?! Say it isn't so! Yes indeed, 2019 on the Mid-South Retail Blog is getting off to a great start, with thanks to blog contributor Mike B. for sending in the following post that you're about to read. (You can check out Mike's previous post, from August, at this link; and if you have any contributions of your own, you can always feel free to email those to us at midsouthretailblog [at] gmail [dot] com.) Enjoy!
Long before the dollar stores invaded every part of Memphis, another company had control of the neighborhood staple trade.
7-Eleven stores entered Memphis in 1966 when their parent company, Dallas TX based Southland Corporation, purchased American Service Company in Atlanta, operator of 86 Handy-Pantry convenience stores in Tennessee and Georgia.
Over the next 20 years, the Southland Corporation built convenience stores in almost every neighborhood of Memphis and also in outlying cities such as Millington and Collierville in Tennessee, and Southaven and Horn Lake in Mississippi. It would not be a stretch to say that by the mid 1980’s; Memphis may have been 7-Eleven’s best market in the Southeast outside of Florida.
Before 1980, the majority of stores were small neighborhood grocery stores, located near the entrances of large neighborhoods. Most of these stores were built in 7-Eleven’s “colonial” design, which blended well with neighborhood houses, or in the later mansard roof format. By 1980, the Memphis telephone book listed 68 locations, which would have been more stores than all other Tennessee cities combined.
Here is a link to see the colonial design as they originally looked. (By the way, the series of photos in this blog shows a 7-eleven with a Midwest dairy milk truck – this photo was probably taken in Memphis since Southland owned Midwest dairies - based in Memphis).
By the early 1980’s the convenience store business had started to change from the 7am to 11pm neighborhood store format to the 24 hour modern convenience store with emphasis on snacks (aka junk food), beer, soda, and cigarettes. By this time, new stores were being built with a small gasoline island. Because of these changes, many Memphis 7-Eleven stores were moved from the colonial design store to a new brick mansard store. These new stores were located down the street, across the street, or around the corner from the original. Southland also kept up with Memphis’ eastern migration by continuously building stores in new neighborhoods.
By December 1987, there were 56 locations listed in the Memphis Yellow Pages, and that didn’t include the 1 or 2 7-Eleven stores located on Navy Road in Millington. However, things would soon change because a few months earlier, the Southland Corporation defended itself from a hostile takeover attempt by buying all stock in the company. Newsweek magazine later reported that “Southland had become another victim of the roaring ’80s: having taken on a crushing $4.9 billion debt to take itself private in 1987”. In order to raise cash, Southland sold off side businesses such as Reddy Ice, Tydel systems (manufacturer of convenience store drop safes), Chief Auto Parts, and droves of 7-Eleven stores.
Ironically, the so called Southland Corporation pulled out of the southeast almost immediately: In April 1988, 473 7-Eleven stores in 10 States were sold to Circle K. This transaction removed 7-eleven from Atlanta, Charlotte, Little Rock, Mobile AL, Nashville, New Orleans, and other southern cities. In separate transactions, 7-Eleven stores left Houston, Jacksonville, Minneapolis-St Paul, San Antonio, Fort Smith, and other areas. Memphis, for the time being, was retained as an operating city for 7-Eleven.
How I became interested: There was a 7-Eleven located down the street from my Murfreesboro, TN Elementary School. Although my family never stopped there, I knew from Movies and TV that cool “California” people shopped at 7-Eleven. Other than that, I could have cared less. A few years later, at my Junior High just outside of Nashville, a classmate mentioned that 7-Eleven didn’t exist anymore. Later, visiting family in Memphis, I was pleased to see that they were operating new stores in Bartlett and Raleigh. These 2 stores, with their low profile ground signs and tasteful landscaping looked much better than the run down orange 1970’s 7-Eleven that I remembered from elementary school.
Finally, in 1990, after a long day of visiting extended Memphis family and hanging out in Overton Park, my dad agreed to indulge my curiosity and stop at one of the 7-Elevens for the first of what would be hundreds of Slurpee’s in my lifetime. The final stop that evening was 7-Eleven #29103, located at 795 Highway 72 West in Collierville. Coincidentally, this was the newest and shiniest of the Memphis area stores, with a new store design that another 7-Eleven fan has called “twin towers” due to the symmetrical brick walls on either side of the store entrance. As we pulled into the parking lot the store looked all lit up and great. However, there was something wrong: On all the gas pumps, where the Citgo symbol should have been, there were new stickers, saying “Mapco Express”...
(To be continued – hopefully soon)
A great post - and it even ends on a cliffhanger, just like some of those movies and TV shows that Mike recognized from a young age as epitomizing 7-Eleven as a store where cool "California" people shop :) Stay tuned for Mike's follow-up post in the future, but in the meantime, Mike also sent in several great pictures and other information. First, some tips for any 7-Eleven spotters out there:
Two clues for spotting former 7-Elevens: Parking lot spotlight located on the pole sign and a 3 panel sign on the building. In the 80’s and 90’s this sign had two red squares, which were later replaced by the green/orange 3 striped logo. Another clue for stores that didn’t have gasoline sales was a pyramid shaped concrete base where the pole sign was affixed. Even when the sign is replaced, this base is usually left in place. Z Highland Market, which was located at 629 S. Highland, before being demolished for McDonald's, had all 3 of these clues.
And now, the pictures, which Mike kindly pulled for us from his collection:
Was it or wasn’t it? I can’t prove that this store, built in 1969, ever operated as a 7-Eleven colonial store, but it sure does look the part. Located at 4175 Summer Avenue. Colonial Stores were built from approximately 1964 to 1980 in the eastern US.
7-Eleven #24491, located at 3524 Covington Pike @ Yale Road in Raleigh in December 1989. This is the mansard roof design which was built from approximately 1970 to 1987. Note the 3 panel sign, mentioned in my clues above.
Pole sign for store #24491. Note the spotlight, also mentioned in my tips for spotting 7-Eleven stores.
7-Eleven #25677 6859 Highway 70 @ Stage Rd, Bartlett. This store has the 7-Eleven sign, sans the red squares, no doubt to comply with Bartlett’s sign ordinance. The lady in the picture is my mom, no doubt wondering why her son was into gas stations instead of guns or guitars... (Don't worry, Mike - I'm sure all parents of retail fans wonder something like that at some point!)
Former 7-Eleven #12891 314 N. Cleveland – Looking like they did in better days, this is the best preserved former location in Memphis. If you put “7-Eleven near Memphis” in Google Maps- this location comes up as “permanently closed”.
Finally, for those of you who may be interested in doing further research, Mike also shared with us his sources for this post:
- Oh Thank Heaven! The Story of The Southland Corporation – Allen Liles 1977, Library of Congress Catalog # 77-71336, Page 186.
- Japan Takes a Big Gulp – Newsweek, April 2nd, 1990
- Gasoline and C-Store Derby: Why Circle K is Gaining in the Home Stretch – National Petroleum News - J Richard Shaner – August 1988
- South Central Bell – Greater Memphis Telephone Directory (White Pages), August 1980
- South Central Bell – Greater Memphis Area Yellow Pages – December 1987
So that will do it for this post. Thanks again to Mike B. for sharing all this great information and photography with us! Leave any questions, concerns, or compliments for Mike in the comments :) Also, once more, please be sure to check out Mike's previous contribution to the Mid-South Retail Blog here, as well as l_dawg2000's corollary to that post here. And until next time, as always, have fun exploring the retail world wherever you are!