Convenience Stores are the modern counterparts to the once ubiquitous ser‑sta‑gros that dispensed the four commodities without which life in rural America would have been unthinkable: Red Man chewing tobacco, Coca‑Cola, gasoline, and beer. The ser‑sta‑gro was usually a mom‑and‑pop business, and it had an aesthetic all its own, characterized by sun‑faded pinup calendars (all of them more than two years old), skeins of fan belts (displayed in a smeary plate‑glass window), and countless streamers of fossilized flypaper, whose intended victims promenaded confidently up and down the desiccated bodies of their less fortunate comrades. The “rest room” — if there was one — was often just a hole in a splintered plank in a shack, a rickety affair located somewhere out back among piles of discarded tires and rusting engine blocks.
Today’s convenience stores are a study in contrast. They’re oppressively tidy, resplendent in corporate dress, and relentlessly family‑friendly. The pinups are gone, and judiciously applied poisons now eliminate the need for flypaper. There are changes in the stock in trade, too. Red Man is losing ground to Skoal and Copenhagen, and Gatorade is making inroads on Coca‑Cola. But the gas and beer still bring in a steady stream of customers, and convenience stores often have much more on offer than the ser‑sta‑gros’ Big Four commodities. And that’s a good thing.
Not that the Big Four are in any less demand, of course. Trekkers who drive—as opposed to those arriving on two wheels—need gas for their vehicles. And many of us drink beer, though we don’t do much beer‑drinking in the backcountry on paddling or backpacking trips. We’d have to haul it around with us, for one thing, and beer, being largely water, is heavy. Moreover, the 18‑ and 24‑packs that form the bulk of the convenience stores’ inventory are awkward loads in a kayak or small canoe. We do need to eat and drink, however. So when we have to stock up on food — if, for example, we left the food pack in the garage, and the garage is now 500 miles away — and if we don’t fancy making a two‑hour detour to visit a HyperMart, we’re left with no alternative but the convenience store.
Admittedly, the prospects may not appear very promising. Beer and Cheetos do not a balanced diet make, and they’ll likely be the first things to greet the customer’s eye. But the determined forager will unearth a world of possibilities hidden behind the leaning towers of Pilsner. Let’s take a brief tour and see what we can find … Read more…
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