Did you know that the innumerable convenience stores dotting American highways are largely owned by the South Asian community? South Asians, who literally control the US motel business, are increasingly concentrating their energy in the lucrative convenience store business.
The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) estimates there are over 140,655 convenience stores in the US with annual sales of $495 billion. Rough estimates suggest that the number of South Asian owned stores nationwide is between 50,000 and 70,000, almost a third to half of the total, according to the online edition of littleindia, an ethnic Indian magazine.
This half-a-trillion-dollar retail channel comprises many small entrepreneurs, besides multi-state and nationwide chains, such as 7-Eleven, which have become the building blocks of comfortable life in America.
Satya Shaw, president of the Asian American Convenience Store Association, (AACSA) which was formed in 2005, estimates that there are about 70,000 South Asian owned stores, raking in over $100 billion in revenues.
According to Tariq Khan, chairman of the National Coalition of Associations of 7-Eleven Franchisees, the largest convenience store chain in the country, more than 50 per cent of the chain's franchised stores are owned by South Asians. Of the 1,200 7-Eleven stores in California alone, at least 600-700 are owned by South Asians.
"I really think we are the backbone of the industry. With all the bankruptcies in the 90s of convenience stores, I think Indians and Pakistanis are the reason the companies survived because we came in and bought those stores," said Khan, who migrated to the US from Pakistan in the 1970s.
"All those stores went belly up in the Midwest and when they were gobbled up, they were gobbled up by people like myself."
So why are South Asians entering this sector? "In this business you don't need experience - the prices are on the merchandise. You don't even have to know much English. You can get by with 'Good morning' and 'Thank You' and 'Have a nice day,'" Khan said.
"This business is also recession proof because every morning people need the newspaper, bread, milk, coffee and cigarettes. If they don't have a job, they're likely to be still drinking coffee, perhaps having more cigarettes and certainly reading the newspaper," Khan said jokingly.
However, for all the success stories, the convenience stores are also a place of nightmares, of armed robberies, shootings, vandalism, shoplifting and incidents of people driving off without paying for gas. All the owners said they instruct their workers not to play hero and confront robbers.