ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The U.S. convenience channel ended 2020 with 150,274 c-stores, a drop from the previous year, according to the 2021 NACS/Nielsen Convenience Industry Store Count.

By comparison, there were 152,720 c-stores in operation at the close of 2019, resulting in a 1.6-decrease year over year. The most recent store count is based on c-stores that were open as of December 2020.

In addition, the new store count shows that 121,538 c-stores sell motor fuels — or 80.9 percent of all convenience stores. This represents a slight 0.4-percent decrease from 121,998 stores selling fuels the year prior. Overall, c-stores sell an estimated 80 percent of the fuel purchased in the United States.

According to NACS, a decrease in the total store count was expected, given the overall retail contraction in the U.S. The industry decline was led by a 3.1-percent decrease in single-store operators (92,196 in 2020 vs. 95,108 in 2019), which accounts for 61.4 percent of all c-stores.

In addition, of the total 2,446-store decline, 1,986 did not sell fuel vs. 460 that did.
“While pandemic-related restrictions significantly affected commuting in 2020, leading to an estimated 10-percent to 15-percent decrease in fuel demand, fuel was still an important convenience offer as customers increasingly relied on their local convenience store to bundle shopping occasions when fueling up and also purchasing fill-in grocery items and take-home meals at stores,” said NACS Vice President of Research Lori Stillman.
The decline of one-store operators continues a multi-year trend; single-store operators made up a record 63.2 percent of the industry in 2017. Meanwhile, the percentage of one-store operators that sell fuel dropped to 57.1 percent, the lowest since 2010 (56.7 percent).

Even with three consecutive years of decline, the overall c-store count increased 2.7 percent during the past decade. The last time the industry saw multi-year declines in 2009 and 2010, related to the economic fallout of the Great Recession, the association pointed out.

“The sustained growth of online shopping and the long-term effects of the pandemic will continue to reshape consumer shopping routines and affect the overall retail landscape and make for extremely challenging times,” said Andy Jones, NACS Vice Chairman of Research & Technology, who is president and CEO of Augusta, Ga.-based Sprint Food Stores.

“At the same time, there are opportunities, especially for small retail, to implement more online offers and last-mile fulfillment to provide convenience however the customer defines it,” he added.

By state, Texas continues to have the most c-stores (15,695 stores), or more than one in 10, in the country. The rest of the top 10 also remains the same from the year prior:
• California (12,074 stores)
• Florida (9,619)
• New York (8,096)
• Georgia (6,574)
• North Carolina (5,890)
• Ohio (5,564)
• Michigan (4,855)
• Pennsylvania (4,698)
• Illinois (4,629)
According to the data, California is the only state in the top 10 that added stores (84), while the states registering the largest declines are New York (393 stores), Florida (192) and Texas (161). Alaska has the fewest stores in the country at 176 locations.

As for the competitive landscape, the decline in the convenience store count reflects the decline of all brick-and-mortar stores. Overall, retail contracted 2.1 percent, with the dollar store channel being one of the few channels that saw growth (3.1-percent increase). All other major competing channels had fewer units by December 2020.

In addition, there are 15,638 gas stations/kiosks, led by 1,673 kiosks in California; 1,339 in Texas; and 924 in New Jersey, a state that requires full-service fueling. The kiosk format saw a 9.4-percent decline over the past year and a 29.2-percent decline over the past five years as more consumers seek out stores that have robust food and beverage offers.