Bert Fuller was fuming.
My mom asked why Lincoln Pharmacy that was associated with the now-defunct Rexall chain of associated independent drug stores had started carrying a spattering of food items ranging from canned items such as soup and vegetables to boxed goods like cake mixes.
It was 1967. Drug stores selling food items including the big chains of the day such as Payless Drugs Stores was a rarity.
Fuller — a fairly mild-mannered pharmacist by training — went into a pointed tirade about grocery stores selling toothpaste and shampoo. An exasperated Fuller said grocery stores were steeping on the feet of drug stores and forcing pharmacies to retaliate.
Now nearly 50 years later the retail war front has changed drastically.
Grocery stores such as Whole Foods in many locations offer the equivalent of fast casual dining in their stores with fresh made-to-order menu items plus contemporary seating and atmosphere. The sale of fresh-cooked items primarily for in-store dining at Whole Foods hit $2.7 billion last year. Compare that to casual dining leader Chipolte’s Mexican Grill whose sales reached $3.2 billion in 2014.
What Fuller failed to mention was how he had opened a combined lunch counter/soda fountain when his new store opened to compete for the same dollars my mom was aiming at with her drive-in dubbed The Squirrel Cage.
The pending opening of a Starbucks inside the Manteca Target in addition to its snack bar has prompted some to wonder aloud whether the world has gone nuts since a free-standing Starbucks complete with drive-thru is just a five minute walk away.
You don’t have to walk very far to buy food in Manteca or any American city for that matter. And often that includes hot or freshly prepared food.
The lines between categories of stores whether that are grocery, “drug stores” in the modern genre of Target and Walmart, and convenience stores have been blurred for years. Now that restaurants are under attack from all three of those categories, the day may not be far behind where a place like McDonald’s might start offering more than Happy Meals.
As much as you may think that will never fly, consider convenience stores.
Their charm when firms such as 7-Eleven (originally a general store style concern known as Totem) first started appearing on the retail scene after World War II was being a quick trip option to grocery stores. Their hours of operation also were revolutionary. They were open for the unheard of hours of 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. hence the name. In 1962, 7-Eleven opened its first 24-hour store prompting many to think the world had gone mad.
Even the idea of 7-Eleven being a convenience store per se has gone partly out the window.
It started when the State of California turned neighborhood convenience stores into gambling dens. There are times during the week especially when big jackpots are offered that you can grab a cold drink in a convenience store and by the time you reach the cash register it is at room temperature.
Some convenience stories have worked hard to make wait times you’d normally experience at a supermarket on a busy day a seven day a week occurrence at their locations as well. They’ve done this by having the one clerk they typically have on duty work as a kitchen staff as well. There’s nothing more satisfying than stopping to make a quick purchase at a convenience store and being fourth in line behind three other customers ordering full-scale pizza-style meals.
The farthest Manteca convenience stores have gone is to offer hot chicken wings and pizza. But chains such as the Sheetz convenience stores on the East Coast have installed kitchens and fast food counters along with in-store eating as well as offering complete barista stations that offer fresh coffee and fresh smoothies made to order. Another East Coast convenience store chain — Wawa — has food counters that serve everything from custom-ordered sandwiches to French onion soup.
McDonald’s executives last month identified the growing trend of fast food service inside convenience stores — and not joint ventures that team up places like McDonald’s and Chevron in a co-shared building – as a big reason why Mickey D’s United States sales have been in a two-year slump.
You can’t fault the trend. Everyone is being squeezed. Large chain operations are under pressure from investors oblivious to the financial stability of solid, long-haul profits to try and grow bigger and bigger returns every year. At the same time mom and pop operations where owners are trying to feed their families whether they own a chain franchise or an independent business are fighting tooth and nail for every cent.
Perhaps the time is fast approaching where some innovator will open the perfect Manteca business for one-stop shopping. It would offer the ability to dine on Mexican food, have your nails done, buy fresh Chinese food, access a check cashing service, get a tattoo, buy from an extensive inventory of cigarettes — electronic and otherwise, grab a pizza, buy a used car, have your car washed, buy a lottery ticket, workout on weight machines, and rent a place to store all the stuff you buy that you don’t have room to keep at home.
Of course, the ultimate one-stop shop would be open 24 hours and not have enough parking spaces.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209.249.3519.