In the last few years, it seems every other corner in Colorado Springs sprouts a newly built “Kum & Go” gas station. Kum & Go’s bright red-and-white oval signs beckon consumers to plentiful pumps and come-hither convenience stores. Kum & Gos are clean and spacious, with competitive fuel prices. Started in Iowa by Krause Gentle Co. (hence the “K” and “G” in the name), Kum & Go operates 400 stores across 11 Midwestern states; rapidly adding more. They’re even gobbling up unwanted locations of my favorite childhood hangout: 7-Eleven.
7-Eleven, of course, is the remarkably resilient convenience store of the baby-boomer generation and before. 400 stores is a drop-in-the-bucket to 7-Eleven. Worldwide you’ll find almost 70,000. It’s safe to say 9 of 10 Americans – at some time in their lives – pass under the bright green, red, and orange of a 7-Eleven sign.
7-Eleven roots to 1927, when “Tote’m” Stores launched in central Texas (yes; a totem pole in front of every one). In the post-WWII era, Tote’m rebranded as “7-Eleven” to acknowledge an unprecedented window of operation – earlier in the morning and later at night than most others. Today of course, coupled with gas stations, 7-Elevens keep those doors open round the clock.
Last Thursday – and every year on “7/11” – 7-Eleven offered a free small Slurpee to all who passed through its doors. (I like number-calendar play, don’t you? “Pi Day” = 3.14, “Fry Day” – National French Fry Day = 7/13, and “Star Wars Day” = May the Fourth.) Best Slurpee trivia: its genesis was at Dairy Queen, where a franchisee put Cokes in the freezer and stumbled upon a soda slush he labeled the “ICEE”. 7-Eleven bought the license, changed the name, and the rest is history. Still one of the bestselling drinks anywhere.
This week, I find myself vacationing in the small coastal town where I spent many a childhood afternoon heading to 7-Eleven. I missed out on last week’s free Slurpee, but I went to one of their stores the day after just to have a look. I can’t tell you the last time I’d been in a 7-Eleven but know this: they haven’t changed much in fifty years. You’ll still find an entire aisle of candy. Hot dogs still rotate on heated rollers behind glass, ready for purchase. Doughnuts age in a plastic bakery case. The Slurpee machines grind away towards the back, beckoning with their cups and colors.
I’ll give you five reasons why 7-Eleven was the ideal destination for a tweenager of my day. First, 7-Elevens were located close enough to residential neighborhoods to get there on foot or by bike. Second, 7-Elevens were small; therefore, not intimidating. (A kid-sized grocery store, if you will.) Third, 7-Elevens parked a couple of pinball machines in the corner of the store (I can still hear the “knock” sound when you’d win a free game). Fourth, 7-Elevens had an entire aisle of “coin candy” (dozens of options for your hard-earned penny, nickel, dime, or quarter). Finally, 7-Elevens had Slurpees – the coolest kid drink around.
When I visited 7-Eleven last week, I bought a Slurpee for old time’s sake. Guess what? They’re exactly the same – that slushy mix of syrup, CO2, and water. You still choose from several sizes of paper/plastic cups (although now you can “Big Gulp” if you must have 32 oz.). The drink still rotates and mixes behind that round glass window; a tempting peek at the flavors before you commit. The straws still have that open spoon on the ends. And a Coke Slurpee is still the fan-favorite (I’d choose Cherry were it not for the stained lips). Frankly, the only difference between today’s Slurpee and the one in the 1970’s: you can buy a refillable cup for discounts on future purchases.
Kum & Go also offers a refillable cup – the $50 “gold” for unlimited coffee and soda for a year. But that’s hardly kid stuff nor kid prices. I only go to K & G for the gas anyway. But take my advice and stop into a 7-Eleven again. Buy a small Coke Slurpee (and a hot dog – they’re actually pretty good). The pinball machines are history, and the candy costs a lot more than a penny. Otherwise it’s like a step back in time.
Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”, and the CNN.com article, “It’s 7-Eleven Day…”