When I first moved into my new neighborhood, I was thrilled that I lived just 3 blocks from a 7-11. Why, you might ask? Well, when I lived in Japan, I was also 3 blocks from a 7-11. (And actually lived in the same building as a Lawson!) Living in Japan had taught me that convenience stores , or konbini, can really be, how should I say this - convenient! A convenience store in Japan is one of those things you could always depend upon to be open, stocked with everything you needed and more, and staffed by courteous, competent folks. Besides the obvious, you know food, and magazines, and stuff, you can also order tickets to almost any event in the country, pay all your bills in about 30 seconds, and always come in and enjoy climate control from whatever sauna- or blizzard-like weather you might be suffering from on the outside.
After coming back to the states, going to a national chain convenience store continued to be as rare as it was before I had left. In San Francisco, anyway, most of the functions of convenience stores are taken over by the corner Mom-and-Pop convenience store. These are fine – the proprietors are usually pretty friendly – but they’re not often open past 11pm, they really only stock booze and snacks, and the quality of the merchandise has a lot to be desired. So, I really missed the “convenience” of the Japanese konbini. This is why I was excited about finally having a neighborhood 7-11.
But in actuality, there is almost nothing in common between American 7-11’s and those in Japan. The selection of goods is worse than the Mom-and-Pops’, and the prices are about 10 percent higher. When I first wrote this, I kind of just wanted to rant about how my neighborhood store in particular let me down, but after doing a little investigation, I see that pretty much all of them in the city are, to use a probably very politically incorrect term, “ghetto”. Sure, they’re open 24 hours. But that just means that there’s a 24-hour a day place for people with mental disabilities and gang-bangers to congregate. I mean, moving to the Sunset, I thought I was getting away from this, but this 7-11 seems to bring a bit of the Mission back. The place is always filthy, and poor folks who don’t know any better just use the always-on lights to congregate and ask the same people over and over for money. I find it really sad, and is another in the many pieces of evidence that we need a stronger social safety net, as the few times I do break down and give out some change to these folks doesn’t really help. We need something better to help the disadvantaged, and it’s not going to come from these interactions.
Well, enough of my little rant. All I really wanted to say is I miss Japanese convenience stores, and am really sad that the big 7-11 sign just down the street doesn’t live up to the memories of what a convenience store could, and should, be.