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U.S. C-Store Count Declines for 3rd Year in a Row

Industry sees more than 3% drop in the number of single-store operators, continuing trend
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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — There are 150,274 convenience stores operating in the United States, a 1.6% decrease in the number of stores in operation (152,720) at the close of 2019, according to the 2021 NACS/Nielsen Convenience Industry Store Count.

The store count is based on c-stores open as of December 2020.

C-stores sell an estimated 80% of the fuel purchased in the United States, and the new store count shows that 121,538 c-stores sell motor fuels (80.9% of all c-stores), a slight 0.4% drop from 121,998 stores selling fuels the year prior.

Given the overall retail contraction in the United States, NACS expected the decrease in the total c-store count, it said. A 3.1% decrease in single-store operators (92,196 in 2020 vs. 95,108 in 2019) led the industry decline, which account for 61.4% of all c-stores. In addition, the decrease in the industry store count was more pronounced among stores that did not sell fuel. Of the total 2,446-store decline, 1,986 did not sell fuel, compared to 460 that sold fuel.

“While pandemic-related restrictions significantly affected commuting in 2020, leading to an estimated 10% to 15% decrease in fuel demand, fuel was still an important convenience offer as customers increasingly relied on their local convenience store to bundle shopping occasions when fueling up and also purchasing fill-in grocery items and take-home meals at stores,” said NACS Vice President of Research Lori Stillman.

The decline of one-store operators continues a multi-year trend; single-store operators made up a record 63.2% of the industry in 2017. Meanwhile, the percentage of one-store operators that sell fuel dropped to 57.1%, the lowest since 2010 (56.7%).

Despite the third straight yearly decline in stores, the overall c-store count has increased 2.7% during the past decade. The last time the industry saw multi-year declines was 2009 and 2010, related to the economic fallout of the Great Recession, said NACS.

“The sustained growth of online shopping and the long-term effects of the pandemic will continue to reshape consumer shopping routines and affect the overall retail landscape and make for extremely challenging times,” said Andy Jones, president and CEO of Sprint Food Stores, Augusta, Ga., and NACS vice chairman of research and technology. “At the same time, there are opportunities, especially for small retail, to implement more online offers and last-mile fulfillment to provide convenience however the customer defines it.”

State Rankings

Among the states, Texas continues to have the most convenience stores (15,695 stores), or more than one in 10 stores in the country. The rest of the top 10 also remains the same from the year prior. California is second at 12,074 stores, followed by Florida (9,619), New York (8,096), Georgia (6,574), North Carolina (5,890), Ohio (5,564), Michigan (4,855), Pennsylvania (4,698) and Illinois (4,629). California is the only state in the top 10 that added stores (+84), while New York (-393 stores), Florida (192) and Texas (161) saw the largest declines. Alaska (176) has the fewest stores in the country.

Performance vs. Other Channels

The decline in the convenience store count reflects the decline of all brick-and-mortar stores. Overall, retail contracted 2.1%, with the dollar store channel being one of the few channels that saw growth (+3.1%). All other major competing channels had fewer units by December 2020.

CHANNEL

2020

2019

Unit Change

% Change

    

Convenience

150,274

152,720

(2,446)

-1.6

    

Grocery

47,066

49,034

(1,968)

-4.0

    

Drug

41,000

41,127

(127)

-0.3

    

Dollar

34,215

33,185

1,030

3.1

    

Cigarette outlet

10,180

11,109

(929)

-8.4

    

Liquor/Beer/Wine Specialty

45,473

46,381

(908)

-2.0

   

In addition are “gas station/kiosk” stores that sell fuel but not enough of an in-store product assortment to be considered c-stores. Overall, there are 15,638 kiosks, led by 1,673 kiosks in California, 1,339 in Texas and 924 in New Jersey, a state that requires full-service fueling. The kiosk format saw a 9.4% decline over the past year and 29.2% decline over the past five years as more consumers seek out stores that have robust food and beverage offers, NACS said.

Founded in 1961 as the National Association of Convenience Stores, NACS advances the role of c-stores as positive economic, social and philanthropic contributors to the communities they serve. NACS has 1,900 retailer and 1,800 supplier members from more than 50 countries.

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