As an abstraction, the market is an essential economic concept. As a reality, the market is an essential element of human society. Or at least of any human society in which any rational person would want to live. Utopian idealists of various sorts may wish to take issue with this claim, and they may do so in the marketplace of ideas, but sensible pragmatic sorts prefer the wealth of opportunities and opportunity for wealth markets afford.
But, of course, these markets must be open for business. Here in Dallas – unofficial motto: Make Money and Shop! – a novel marketing idea occurred in 1927 to Joe C. Thompson, an employee of the Southland Ice Company. That idea was a conveniently located store selling a small variety of essential groceries and sundries which, most importantly, was open earlier in the morning and later at night than the average grocery store or drug store. In fact, the stores were open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Guess what the stores were called.
By the 1950s and 60s, supermarket and drug store chains had supplanted most local independent grocery stores and pharmacies, but like most other retail businesses they were open comparatively fewer hours. No problem. You could buy a loaf of bread, a quart of milk, a bottle of aspirins or a six-pack of beer at the nearest 7-Eleven before and after ordinary retail store hours. It was convenient, but it was more expensive. Convenience, like any other service, has a price.
Over the years, two things happened more or less simultaneously. Grocery stores and drug stores began keeping longer hours and convenience stores, 7-Elevens included, began to lower their prices. Competition is a wonderful thing for consumers. Not so wonderful for businesses, but in a free market both unavoidable and relentless.
One of the things many Europeans find the most surprising about the United States is the ready availability of shopping opportunities with many retail businesses open twelve hours a day, six or seven days a week and grocery stores and convenience stores open, as the saying goes, 24/7. Most of the shops of most European nations continue to maintain the shorter sort of business hours that were typical in the U.S. fifty years ago. There are various reasons for this, not the least of which is a much more robust trade unionism in Europe.
Well, to each his own. When we returned to the United States after living in Europe for a number of years, going grocery shopping or browsing in a bookstore late at night became a sort of delightful rite of return for many months. A bit shallow, perhaps, but such conduct is unmistakably though not uniquely part and parcel of the American sensibility.
The Asian sensibility, too. In fact, Southland and 7-Eleven long ago was acquired by a Japanese corporation and today there are some 38,000 outlets throughout North America, Asia and Australia. In the U.S., 7-Elevens also often sell gasoline. But no longer Citgo gasoline. Venezuela’s state-owned petroleum company acquired 7-Eleven’s former partner in the 1990s. Alas, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez is, or at least pretends to be, one of those Utopian idealists who has, by all accounts, made Venezuela decidedly consumer unfriendly.
7-Eleven was a favored destination among my cohort as a teenager, both for the legal purchase of soft drinks and, it can now safely be admitted, for the illegal purchase of beer back when false identification cards were not carefully scrutinized in that blissfully pre-MADD generation.
And, of course, for Slurpees. They cost, if memory serves, all of ten cents back in 1967 when they were first introduced. A bit pricier these days, Slurpees are another iconic American product, still popular with kids and a favorite occasional treat in the Ridgely household after a busy Saturday morning of running errands. And today, on the eleventh day of the seventh month of the year, if you visit a participating 7-Eleven you can have a free Slurpee in honor of “7-11 Day.”
Any flavor available, in a 7.11 ounce cup.