PORTLAND, Ore. - Convenience store chain 7-Eleven is looking at opening more stores in the Portland area and they're coming up against some opposition from local residents who are worried about what it could mean for their neighborhood.
Portland is one of several markets where 7-Eleven is implementing what they call an accelerated growth plan.
In other words, the company has identified cities where their research shows consumer needs can be met by adding additional locations and they're moving forward with making it happen.
The problem is that not everyone here in Portland is happy with the idea.
Woodstock Has Already Gotten a New 7-Eleven
Concerns over 7-Eleven opening up new locations in Portland began heating up last year when the chain decided to put in a store at S.E. 52nd and Woodstock.
The Woodstock Neighborhood Association was not happy with the idea because they thought it would bring an increase in crime and traffic. The location is also the gateway to the Woodstock neighborhood and they didn't think a 7-Eleven convenience store would set the right tone. They were hoping a different type of business would move in.
"A Burgerville (for instance) would have fit our local Americana vibe in Woodstock," Kenny Heggem, Media Committee Chair for the Woodstock Neighborhood Association Board, told KATU in a follow-up email after a phone interview. "They are a local business with a good reputation, and a sustainable operation with less waste since the packaging is at least recyclable or can be composted. They would have employed more people as well."
Despite the neighborhood's concerns, 7-Eleven did move forward with their plan to build at that location.
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KATU talked to Heggem about how the area has been doing since 7-Eleven moved in. He said one of the biggest complaints they have at this point is that trash from the store seems to be creeping into the neighborhood. He said things like Big Gulp cups are ending up as far as five blocks away.
The use of the land is another sore spot, Heggem said. At issue - an excess of parking spaces he feels could have been put to better use.
"There are 40 parking spots there for the 7-11 and a Sherwin paint store and I never see more than about five of them being used at a time," he said.
Heggem did add, however, that the neighborhood association was happy that 7-Eleven agreed to put up minimal signage. He also said the franchise owner has been working with them on an issue regarding malt liquor and has even donated $500 to Friends of Woodstock.
"So it has not been all bad," Heggem said. "Still, we do not find 7-Eleven a vital part of the neighborhood at all."
7-11 Looks at Vernon and St. John's Locations
Folks in the Vernon neighborhood in Northeast Portland and the St. John's neighborhood in North Portland are now running up against the convenience store chain.
7-Eleven is specifically looking to build on a lot with an empty building at N.E.15th and Killingsworth and also a large corner lot located just before the 'Welcome to St. John's' sign on North Lombard Street.
Once again, neighborhood residents are raising a red flag. In a recent meeting, folks from the Vernon and St. John's neighborhoods, as well as Occupy St. John's (which is lending its support), got together to talk about how they could get their collective voices heard.
Some of the ideas tossed around during the meeting were plastering 'Boycott 7-Eleven' signs in the windows of local businesses and perhaps staging protests in front of some of the local 7-Eleven stores.
While most folks at the meeting (about a dozen or so people were there) thought those were good ideas, two representatives with the Vernon Neighborhood Association were a little more reserved over the proposed actions.
In Vernon, they are planning to meet this week with 7-Eleven officials. They want to give the chain a chance to present their side and hear the neighborhood's concerns in person before possibly making a bolder move.
Still, the Vernon Neighborhood Association has already formally decided as a group to oppose the proposed 7-Eleven at N.E. 15th and Killingsworth. They are gathering signatures that they plan to send to 7-Eleven's headquarters and to Portland city officials.
That particular area along Northeast Killingsworth was recently rezoned from residential to commercial and there is an effort to revitalize what the city calls a 'blighted' area. The worry from neighborhood residents is that in an area that already has problems with crime, a 7-Eleven store might make the situation worse.
There are also two minority-owned convenience markets just a stone's throw away. We stopped by the two stores recently to see if we could talk to the owners for comment. Neither was there at the time but a clerk at one of the stores told us they were definitely worried about 7-Eleven moving in, especially since it would be right across the street.
We also stopped by St. John's Deli & Grocery, which is just around the corner from the proposed 7-Eleven location on North Lombard Street.
Owner Kevin Lee spoke to us about his personal fight against the chain. He has gathered around 1,800 signatures in a petition to keep 7-Eleven from opening nearby.
Lee, who has worked in the convenience store business all of his life and has been running his own small market for the past five years, fears he will lose his livelihood.
"They (7-Eleven) will be competition and I don't think I will survive," he said, adding that he already had problems early last year when a Grocery Outlet store opened nearby. He said he saw a big drop in his daily profits during the first three months after the store had opened.
Lee's business has since returned and his profits are back to normal again, but that experience has made him worry about what a new 7-Eleven store, which is direct competition, will do to his bottom line.
A more immediate concern, he said, would be having to make cuts. "I hope I won't have to lay off employees or cut their hours. That's the last thing I want to do."
Ken Gritzmacher, owner of Peninsula Station Mailbox and Copy Services in St. John's, was one of those who signed the petition for Lee. A new 7-Eleven store wouldn't be competition for him, but he's still not quite hip to the idea of another one opening in St. John's.
"My take is - do we really need it? I don't think so," he said.
"Why don't they put one in Dunthorpe?" he added. "You know better traffic, higher quality of people, and there's better brands and selection you could put in there. So instead of St. John's, instead of Northeast, instead of the Buckman neighborhood - why are you picking on the east side? Move further west and let's start at the top. They've got plenty of real estate and they've definitely got the tax rolls to take care of it. I don't know, it just seems kind of rational to me."
What 7-Eleven is Saying
We talked to 7-Eleven, which is headquartered out of Texas, by phone about some of the concerns that folks here in Portland have been raising.
Spokeswoman Margaret Chabris said from their perspective, 7-Eleven brings positive things to the community - franchise opportunities, jobs (construction jobs during a build and then about 10 employees per store once it's opened, for example) and a small boost to the local economy.
Fun Facts about 7-Eleven
She added that each area they look at is well researched in advance to make sure it's a viable location.
"Our goal is to provide a consistent, quality offering to our customers and our studies show there is still demand in those areas (in Portland) for convenience products and services that 7-Eleven can meet," Chabris told us in a follow-up email after our conversation.
She added that the 7-Eleven stores are franchises that are locally owned and it's not their intention to bring a corporate vibe to a neighborhood but to become a part of the community like any other local business - with a local operator and local employees.
"Hopefully we can co-exist," Chabris said when asked about the possible impact on local businesses, like other convenience stores, that are already in the area.
We asked 7-Eleven if they could let us know some of the other locations they are taking a look at, but Chabris said they are not at a point where they can release that information. She would only say that they are looking at potential locations throughout the Portland metropolitan area.
A part of 7-Eleven's growth plan is to upgrade some of their current stores or perhaps close some of their older ones that are not ideally situated.
Officials at Portland's Bureau of Development Services said the land at the two proposed locations on Killingsworth and Lombard is zoned for commercial storefront, which allows for retail use.
However, because 7-Eleven is a convenience store, there are specific regulations regarding on-site impact. The main thing is that they are required to come up with a 'Good Neighborhood' plan that outlines how they will deal with issues that may arise - like problems with litter, loitering or alcohol.
It's not a plan that the neighborhood has to sign off on, though, in order for a store to go in. The city said 7-Eleven is within their rights to purchase the properties and build on them - they just have to have a plan in place for dealing with any problems that might happen down the road.