Circle K Plots Expansion in Downtown Chicago

The smaller-format stores will compete with 7-Eleven Inc.

LAVAL, Quebec — Circle K is scouting out locations for new stores in the Windy City.

The convenience retailer, part of Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., is leasing space for smaller-format convenience stores in and around Chicago's Loop, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

The company's website lists 10 sites in the downtown area as "opening soon," the news outlet reported, with the first store expected to welcome customers at 190 W. Madison St. by the end of August.

"We're growing the Circle K brand," company spokesman Chris Barnes told the news outlet. "We are finding new ways to meet customers where they are."

The urban formats are about half the size of typical highway locations and don’t have gas pumps or car washes. The format is similar to locations in Dublin, Ireland, Hong Kong, Montreal and Boston, Barnes said.

According to the spokesman, Chicago provided a "unique opportunity to secure some space."

Area commercial building landlords have been left with vacant street-level space since the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chicago Sun-Times added.

New Competitor on the Block

Other Circle K locations due to open in or near the Loop, according to the company's website, are:

  • 2 N. Wabash Ave.;
  • 36 W. Ohio St.;
  • 139 S. Clinton St.;
  • 180 N. Wacker Dr.;
  • 200 N. LaSalle St.;
  • 676 N. LaSalle St.;
  • 733 S. Dearborn St.; and
  • 850 N. State St.

Barnes declined to discuss those locations or their opening dates, the news outlet said.

New Circle K locations will compete with fellow convenience retailer 7-Eleven Inc. Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven has had an established footprint in the Chicago area since acquiring the White Hen Pantry chain in 2006.

Even before that transaction, 7-Eleven rolled out an urban strategy in the city, as Convenience Store News reported in 2003. The retailer has roughly three dozen c-stores in locations downtown and on the Near North, West and South sides.

Both 7-Eleven and Circle K have a presence with gas stations in the Chicago suburbs.

Additional Focus on Chicago

Circle K's parent company is also making inroads in the city with its recent investment in Kitchen United, a ghost kitchen and restaurant hub technology company.

This summer, Pasadena, Calif.-based Kitchen United raised $100 million in its Series C funding round from investors that include Couche-Tard, The Kroger Co. and Restaurant Brands International, among others. After this round of investments, Kitchen United has raised $175 million to date.

According to Kevin Lewis, chief marketing officer at Alimentation Couche-Tard, the service that Kitchen United provides aligns with the convenience operator's mission to make customers' lives easier.

Kitchen United, which has seen triple-digit top-line growth for three consecutive years, plans to significantly increase its technological and physical footprint in the near term. The company will continue its focus on Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago and Texas as key markets with continued expansion throughout other U.S. trade areas. 

Laval-based Couche-Tard operates in 24 countries and territories, with more than 14,000 stores, of which approximately 10,700 offer road transportation fuel. With its well-known Couche-Tard and Circle K banners, it is one of the largest independent convenience store operators in the United States, and it is a leader in the convenience store industry and road transportation fuel retail in Canada, Scandinavia, the Baltics, as well as in Ireland. It also has an important presence in Poland and Hong Kong SAR.