Sometimes, the best part of a road trip isn’t necessarily the sites you see, but the convenience stores you stop at, and if you think about it, convenience stores helped create the American driving culture we love and cherish. Convenience stores are an ever-present landmark in both urban centers and bucolic rural towns, giving us the fuel our cars need and the fuel our bodies need. Beginning in the early 1900s, gas stations and convenience stores were born, and along with it, the ability for Americans to travel around the country by car.
America’s First Gas Station
The first gas station opened up in Pittsburgh, PA in 1913. Before then, gas stations were simple roadside hubs with a basic pump with no additional services. But when the Gulf Refining Company opened up a station with free air, water, and tire services, the modern-day gas station was born. Staffed with a manager and attendants for repairs, the brightly colored building provided shelter from bad weather and kept cars on the road. By the end of the 1920s, approximately 200,000 gas stations existed in the US.
The Dawn of the Convenience Store
In 1927, “Uncle Johnny” Jefferson Green, owner of the Southland Ice Dock in Dallas, TX., realized that people needed a place where they could buy basic necessities, like bread, cheese, eggs, and milk, after supermarkets closed. He decided to sell these items at his ice shop and stay open later, giving the US its first convenience store. From there, convenience stores began popping up all over the place, especially after World War II. Uncle Johnny’s convenience store eventually changed its name into 7-11, one of the world’s favorite convenience stores.
It would seem that Texas and convenience stores go hand-in-hand. In 1951, Fred Hervey purchased three Kay’s Food Stores in El Paso. This purchase, along with Hervey’s entrepreneurial spirit, led to the beginning of Circle K. By 1975, there were over 1,000 Circle K stores located across America, one of the most widely recognized convenience store brands in the world.
With the creation of suburban living, the influx of the family car, and the idea of the American dream, convenience stores became even more needed with shopping centers and grocery stores located far away. By the 1950s, the convenience store and gas station combination grew into what we know and love today.
Late Nights, Cheap Bites
Originally, 7-11s were only open from, well, 7AM until 11PM as its namesake would suggest. However, most of us know 7-11s as being open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The first 7-11 to be open all night was a happy accident. One store in Austin, TX was flooded with fans after a football game and the store was so busy, it couldn’t close for the evening. Because of this unintentional success story, 24 hour 7-11s began to popup on purpose, the first being in Las Vegas.
Lucky for us, we have a plethora of all-night convenience stores to choose from when we need our late-night snack, a quick top-off on the tank, or to pick up that pint of milk we forgot on the way home.