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    Vegas Area C-store Industry Expects Growth

    State of commercial real estate market behind deals for new locations.

    LAS VEGAS -- While other types of retailers are scrapping growth plans, convenience store operators in the Las Vegas market are upping the ante.

    Las Vegas chains are adding properties as the weak commercial real estate market opens new areas and technology makes it easier to tailor inventory to each store, according to a report by the Las Vegas Business Press.

    "Convenience stores have changed a lot in the last couple of years," Michael Lawshe, president of retail design firm Paragon Solutions, told the publication. "We are getting more into quick consumable foods and less into grocery lines. It's almost like a consolidation of consumer preferences, a hybrid of a fast-food chain and a convenience store melted together to offer everything you want."

    Lawshe recently worked with Green Valley Grocery, a c-store chain based here that remodeled some of its existing 41 stores and opened a prototype store that could qualify for a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification. Green Valley Grocery has at least four new stores in the works.

    Las Vegas-based City Stop opened its 11th store last month and is under contract for another. Sales have suffered as construction workers, a core customer base, lost jobs and didn't gain new patrons as homes went into foreclosure, the publication reported. However, thanks to the owners' fiscal responsibility early on, the crisis wasn't as damaging as it could have been, and sales are up in eight out of 10 stores this year.

    "The first thing we did when we realized that we were facing difficult economic times was that we did everything possible to conserve cash and made sure we were as debt free as possible," co-founder Jon Athey told the publication. "That allowed us to reduce operating expenses and we didn't have to lay off anybody."

    7-Eleven Inc., based in Dallas, operates 164 stores in Las Vegas. It opened five new stores in 2009, with up to six in the planning stage.

    "We have a very aggressive growth plan," Jim Girard, 7-Eleven's market manager for Las Vegas, told the Las Vegas Business Journal. "There are new opportunities in the recession because leasing is less expensive and we are in a strong position."

    One of the company's new strategies in Las Vegas is business conversions. Struggling mom-and-pop stores join the 7-Eleven franchise and the facility gets a $280,000 design and branding facelift.

    Revamping the food-service program is also a top priority, especially as cigarette sales continue to drop. "Customers are getting used to the perception that they can have a hot quality meal at a moderate price here," Girard told the publication.

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