Gasoline retailer Sonol will put convenience stores in city centers next year, TheMarker reported today. Many gas stations across the country have convenience stores nowadays - combinations of corner stores and cafes that seek to solve all our problems. But in effect they replace the privately-owned restaurants and kiosks that once were the norm.
The first convenience stores were built a decade ago, but in the last three years their numbers have reached 600 nationwide, virtually all under the ownership of four big gasoline companies. Business writers use terms like "investment," "growth" and "expansion" to describe them. These labels are surely fitting for gas companies, which make considerable money from these stores, at which profit margins are often 30 to 70 percent. I fear, however, that for those Israelis who do not own gas companies, these stores are hardly convenient at all.
First of all, the advent of convenience stores clearly does not pay off for the business owner who has lost his business. It's also less than advantageous for the workers, who previously toiled for an owner responsible for them and have now lost their jobs. Most convenience-store employees are very young, earn minimum wage and are easily coerced or manipulated. The stores don't even help the consumers paying the stores' particularly high prices.
Now convenience stores are infiltrating cities, as did the chain stores that "sprouted up" in every neighborhood at the expense of privately owned kiosks, many of which saw their profits plummet and were forced to close.
Why should a gas company, whose business is selling fuel, even bother with selling food and drinks rather than leave it to others? Alas, profits in the gas business are limited, business newspapers assure us empathetically. "Limited" in this case refers gas firm Paz's NIS 602 million in profits last year. Yes, turnover was NIS 17 billion, but NIS 300 million was distributed as dividends - that is, the CEO received a bit more than NIS 150 million. Limited profits indeed. Let's not forget that the industry's revenues are assured - the four major gas companies operate almost all Israel's filling stations, and it's almost impossible to put up a station that is not affiliated with them.
Of course there are some for whom convenience stores are indeed more convenient, a place where it's pleasant to spend money and the bathrooms are clean. But the price of this comfort is high - independent small business owners are replaced by weaker, dependent employees, and unique restaurants are replaced by identical food services. And then there is the greatest loss of all, solidarity. In place of the kiosk owner you got to know is a faceless procession of workers with whom you have no connection. Nor do you care about their fates.
It wouldn't even help if convenience stores could be prohibited by law - the greed that drives a corporation to continue increasing profits at any price would find another way of achieving the same result. Gas tycoons apparently feel no moral obligation to allow their employees to work honorably, or to allow others to earn their livelihoods while not under their control.
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