Miami real estate broker Nathan Kurland was driving downtown on Biscayne Boulevard with his wife the other day when they spotted a red, orange and green-striped sign with a familiar logo on the ground floor of an office tower.
“Was that 7-Eleven store there before?” Kurland said they asked each other.
Suddenly, the ubiquitous chain’s convenience stores are popping up all around downtown Miami like mushrooms after a hard rain.
But they’re not your Pop’s suburban 7-Elevens.
Like the corner stores of old, which they recall, these are smaller, urban prototypes with no parking and an emphasis on fresh and grab-and-go foods aimed at downtown dwellers and workers on foot. Like all 7-Elevens, they’re open ’round the clock.
And the stores’ conspicuous arrival here confirms that downtown Miami’s much-trumpeted revival is no figment of boosters’ imaginations, city officials say. The Biscayne Boulevard 7-Eleven, which opened earlier this month in the New World Tower, is the chain’s third new walk-up corner store downtown.
There is a fourth in west Brickell and a fifth under construction in a historic South Beach building.
The thousands of mostly young residents lured downtown by the condo boom of the mid-2000s have now made the district, once desolate outside office hours, an attractive place for national chains’ demographics-crunchers, said Alyce Robertson, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority.
That includes not just 7-Eleven, but also drugstore chains like Walgreens and CVS, which have opened new outlets in the business district, as well as high-end grocer Whole Foods, which has inked a deal to open downtown.
“It’s incredible to see the amount of activity underway, and it doesn’t appear to be waning,” Robertson said in an email.
The opening of 7-Eleven’s bright, sleekly designed stores has been a welcome boon to downtown residents and office workers who formerly had to rely on often-dingy mom-and-pop convenience stores with limited hours and offerings.
“We were very excited,’’ said Rachel Sak, marketing director for Zyscovich Architects, a 90-person firm in the New World building, as she shopped the new 7-Eleven’s wine selection for the office holiday party and gifts to co-workers. “We are taking advantage of it for sure. If you’re downtown and you’re walking, or you want to pick up something on the way home, it’s pretty convenient.’’
The other two stores are on Flagler Street at Miami Avenue, and on Northeast Second Avenue on the ground floor of the Loft Downtown II building, which sits at the foot of a Metromover station and across the street from Miami Dade College.
“It’s doing very well, actually,’’ said franchisee Bobby Abrol, who opened the 7-Eleven at the Loft building this past summer. “It’s all these young couples and young singles who come downstairs for groceries, and the students of course. It’s been a very positive location for me.’’
The urban-format outlets are not new for 7-Eleven, by far the world’s largest convenience-store chain. Company officials say they’ve had them in big cities like Chicago and New York for years. But bringing them to downtown Miami now was a no-brainer as the fast-growing chain, which is adding hundreds of stores in the United States and Canada each year, seeks out new markets in which to expand, they said.
“There is a large concentration of customers in these areas, and it makes sense to go where the customers are,’’ said 7-Eleven regional development manager Grant Distel. “There is an opportunity for us there.’’
At an average of 1,800 square feet, the compact urban stores are not only about half the size of the boxy suburban stores, but they also boast more-sophisticated design and finishes tailored to fit into the surroundings. That usually means discreet signage, butcher-shop-style tiles or wood on the interior walls, and architectural pendant lights, Distel and company spokeswoman Margaret Chabris said.
“They much more reflect that cosmopolitan feel, especially in Miami,’’ Distel said. “You will find that every one looks just a little bit different.’’
The South Beach store, for instance, on Washington Avenue at 14th Street, is making use of the travertine flooring and mosaic tiling that was already in the space, Chabris said.
What’s sold in the urban shops, meanwhile, represents a paring-down of the typical suburban 7-Eleven’s offerings, with slight variations according to location and clientele, and even what special events are going on downtown on a given day. Stores catering to office workers largely skip selling pet food, for example.
All have selections of fresh salads, fruit, pastries, pizzas, wraps and sandwiches, plus American coffee (the cappucino comes from a machine). Not to mention bags of chips, jerky, grilled hot dogs. And, natch, Slurpees.
When the Ultra music festival rolls around in March, Distel said, the Biscayne Boulevard store will stock up on extra water and soft drinks, “and the stuff people don’t think about, like Chapstick and sunblock.’’
7-Eleven is not the only convenience-store chain to open downtown, nor is it the first.
A Stop ‘n’ Shop opened on Northeast Second Avenue at First Street last year. That’s a block south of Abrol’s new store, where he says hot foods like pizza and chicken wings, “all fresh, good quality,’’ have been his big sellers.
The Stop ‘n’ Shop’s fresh-food offerings are limited to empanadas and pastelitos. But they do have something Texas-based 7-Eleven does not: Cuban coffee from a real espresso machine.