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7-Eleven buys 125 Pittsburgh, Cleveland area stores

| Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, 2:06 p.m.
An Easy Trip convenience store is at the intersection of Camp Horne Road and Route 65 in Emsworth, Friday, October 12th, 2012. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
An Easy Trip convenience store is at the intersection of Camp Horne Road and Route 65 in Emsworth, Friday, October 12th, 2012. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
An Easy Trip convenience store is at the intersection of Camp Horne Road and Route 65 in Emsworth, Friday, October 12th, 2012. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review

International convenience store operator 7-Eleven Inc. is expanding its footprint in the Pittsburgh and Cleveland markets as it goes head-to-head with Canada's largest convenience store chain for dominance in the United States.

Dallas-based 7-Eleven said Friday that it had acquired 125 convenience stores in the two markets from two companies, Handee Marts Inc. of Gibsonia and EZ Energy USA Inc. of Seven Hills, Ohio.

“There's a real horse race going on, in terms of the top two stores,” said Jeff Lenard, a spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores, a trade group based in Alexandria, Va.

Seven-Eleven is squaring off against Quebec-based Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., which owns and franchises about 3,500 Circle K stores in the United States, Lenard said. Seven-Eleven owns or franchises about 6,925 stores in the United States.

“They're continuing to grow for similar reasons,” he said. “The convenience store business has proven to be recession-resistant.”

The cost of the acquisitions was not disclosed.

In the Handee Marts deal, 7-Eleven acquired the company and its 58 7-Eleven-branded stores in the Pittsburgh and Cleveland markets. Handee Marts was owned by Turner Dairy Farms Inc. of Penn Hills.

“One of the key drivers of 7-Eleven's business is to have fresh foods delivered daily,” said Mike Triantafellou, Handee Marts CEO. “We didn't have the numbers to put that kind of distribution in place.”

Triantafellou said he expects 7-Eleven to build a distribution center, with bakery and fresh food commissary, accessible to the Pittsburgh and Cleveland markets to supply the stores “because now they have enough stores to make that work.”

Seven-Eleven officials could not be reached for comment.

In a statement announcing the deals, 7-Eleven's chief financial officer, Stan Reynolds, said, the acquisitions give the company “a strong presence immediately in both the Cleveland and Pittsburgh areas. We also are interested in looking at other locations in these markets to further expand our presence there.”

The deal with EZ Energy includes the company's 67 Easy Trip and BP branded convenience stores and EZ Energy's wholesale fuel distribution business, 7-Eleven said.

EZ Energy USA was owned by EZ Energy Ltd., of Israel, which had been looking to unload its U.S. operations since earlier this year when it missed a bond payment.

Officials with EZ Energy USA could not be reached for comment.

The two deals announced Friday follow an acquisition in September by 7-Eleven in which the company bought 74 7-Eleven branded stores, mostly in West Virginia, from Prima Marketing LLC, of Fairmont, W.Va.

Lenard said convenience stores are increasingly positioning themselves as fresh-food stores, and “7-Eleven is well positioned to deliver upon that.”

But it takes a large company to take on Pittsburgh's two dominant store operators that specialize in fresh food: Sheetz and Giant Eagle Inc.'s GetGo, which Lenard said “are among the best in the country.”

Handee Marts and EZ Energy probably didn't have a big enough footprint, he said. But “tying into 7-Eleven will allow the brand to compete head-on with these two chains.”

Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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