A Brief History of Everyone's Favorite Convenience Store, 7-Eleven

The 7-Eleven chain was founded in 1927 in Dallas, Texas. It was the forerunner of the convenience store idea when it started out as an ice company, by selling milk, bread and eggs along with the ice. In 1946, the name 7-Eleven (Originally 7-to-11) was adopted because of their business hours at the time, 7 a.m to 11 p.m, of course they're all open 24/7 now.

Interestingly enough, 7-Eleven Inc. is also is the world's largest operator, franchisor and licensor of convenience stores with more than 21,000 units worldwide and is one of the nation's largest independent gasoline retailers. Its corporate name was changed from The Southland Corporation to 7-Eleven Inc., after approval by shareholders on April 28, 1999.

Today, it is known for the Big Gulp® and Slurpee®. Ooh.



Brouws, Jeff et al. Highway: America's Endless Dream. New York: Steart, Tabori & Chang. 1997.

People often ask why, if 7-Elevens are open twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year, is it necessary for the stores to have locks on the doors. Unfortunately the answer is pretty boring, but you want the truth, right?

7-Elevens' must have locks on the doors to comply with Government Health, Safety and Fire Regulations. Basically, any place of business must meet certain criteria in order to be able to conduct business - a restaurant must be clean, for instance. I believe (though not sure - I'm not a lawyer) that in order for convenience stores to be able to operate, one of the standards set is that the doors must be able to be locked.

In Japan, 7-Eleven is also a popular fixture in the enormous convenience store (konbini) marketplace, competing with Lawson Station, am/pm, FamilyMart, and many others. As in the U.S., all 7-Elevens in Japan are open 24/7. gn0sis tells me that 7-Eleven's Japanese division is actually larger than its U.S. counterpart.

Things You Can't Find in the U.S.

You can buy hard liquor, including sake, at all 7-Eleven stores in Japan, while some states in the U.S. restrict or prohibit the sale of hard liquor at convenience stores.

7-Eleven stores in Japan sell manga, anime, video games, and DVD movies, catering to the large Japanese market for these products. They also sell paperback books, but I believe you can buy those in the U.S. as well.

Lunch boxes, or bento, are sold at 7-Elevens in Japan for people to eat at work. They typically include either sushi, some kind of noodles, or a fried cutlet over rice with some Japanese pickles. They are sold cold and meant to be eaten cold, but are a less expensive alternative to a noodle shop. A few breakfast and lunch items with Western roots are sold in Japan, including donuts and sandwiches.

Various hot foods, including corn dogs (!) and oden, are sold at the counter.

All 7-Eleven stores have a kiosk at which you can buy tickets to concerts, sporting events, and other attractions. The kiosk also lets you order prints of photos from a digital camera memory card, charge your mobile phone for a few minutes, and perform all sorts of other neat tasks that I didn't try out for fear of keeping someone waiting.

All 7-Eleven stores that I saw in Japan have a photocopier, while I have seen very few stores so equipped in the U.S. The cost is about the same: 10-20 yen (8 to 17 cents) per black-and-white copy.

Most 7-Eleven stores stock at least some kind of PC gear, including CD-R and CD-RW blanks, floppy disks, MO discs (similar to Zip disks but higher in capacity), and blank MiniDiscs. These are sporadically appearing in the U.S., but are really popular among Tokyo's tech-savvy youth.

Summer gifts (ochuugen) are sold in 7-Elevens in case you have the need to send overpriced fruits to your social circle at 3:00 in the morning. This is very much a Japanese custom. The goods look to be decent in quality, although they are relatively inexpensive compared to the more lavish boutiques and department stores.

Obviously, various Japanese snacks including Pocky, Toppo, and Crispy Curry Pringles are sold in Japan and not the U.S. You can also buy Pocari Sweat in quantities of up to two liters, but Coca-Cola only goes up to 1.5 liters.

Things You Can't Find in Japan

Slurpees. The ambrosia of overheated and otherwise sugar-deprived people is completely absent in Japan. The closest thing available is shaved ice -- kakigori in Japanese, but most Americans would call it a snow cone. Kakigori is often sold at festivals and on the street for 200-300 yen (about US$1.70-$2.50) in the summertime, but you can't find it at 7-Eleven.

Big Gulps. Apparently Japanese people don't like to buy their soda in obscenely large paper cups. The Gulp (16 oz, 500 ml), Big Gulp (32 oz, about 1 liter), Super Big Gulp (44 oz, 1.3 liter) and Double Gulp (64 oz, 1.9 liter) are not available in Japan, although you can buy bottled drinks of that size in Japan anyway. The cost is substantially higher: while a Double Gulp will cost you about $1.20 including tax in the U.S., a 2-liter bottle of Pocari Sweat might cost three times as much in Tokyo.

Big Bite Hot Dogs. Although you can try a heat-lamp corn dog in Japan, you won't find any of the Oscar Meyer rollergrill treats known as Big Bites at Japanese 7-Elevens. Your loss, I guess.

None of the 7-Elevens I saw in Japan sell lottery tickets, while nearly all in the U.S. do.

I don't recall seeing hot coffee at 7-Elevens in Japan, although more than 20 iced coffee and coffee-flavored milk drinks are sold. The U.S. has a growing bottled coffee market, but in Japan the market is enormous.

I never felt out of place in a Japanese 7-Eleven, although it is an American chain. The stores are very Japanese, even blasting the company jingle (Sebun irebun! Ii kibun! or 7-Eleven! Good Feeling!1) incessantly over the stereo system. The employees are every bit as lackadasical in Tokyo as in the states, due to serving impatient salary men all day long. They even have a little charity box where I can deposit my worthless 1-yen coins that I get in change.

Sebun irebun! Ii kibun!

1 Thanks to gn0sis for correcting this.

I worked at a few 7-Elevens in my hometown, and these are from personal experience.

The reason that 7-Eleven has locks on their doors is two-fold:

1) Because if there is a violent situation, the employees must be able to lock the doors to prevent violent people from entering the store. The store is also locked after robberies so that the robber cannot return before the police can show up.

2) 7-Elevens may be open 24/7, but there is one exception other than violent situations, and that's Remembrance Day (November 11th), during which it is required that the store be closed for a minimum of three hours. During that time the staff are usually still in the store cleaning.

Another thing that none of my co-workers had ever noticed until I pointed it out to them during my training is that the 'n' in the word eleven in all of the store's logos is always lower-case, while all the other letters are upper-case (7-ELEVEn). We assumed this was done by some graphic artist for aesthetic considerations.

*Please note that the preceeding applies to Canada, but not necessarily any other countries.

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