The In & Out Food Mart in Austin is not your average convenience store.
The small, 1,200 square-foot store at 401 N. Laramie Ave. is surrounded with bulletproof glass inside, but on the outside it has one drive-thru lane for customers opting to stay in their vehicles and shop.
That’s why Christmas Banner, 27, said she shops there.
“It’s quick and convenient. That’s how shopping is supposed to be for customers in a hurry. Too bad all stores don’t offer the same convenience,” she said. “Having a drive-thru is especially convenient when the weather is bad or if a person is out late at night.”
Store Manager Abdulhbib Hamed said most customers prefer the drive-thru over the counter.
“We get most of our business from the drive thru. People prefer to sit in their cars and not have to come inside,” said Hamed. “At the end of the day it’s all about making things easier for customers. If having a drive-thru is what it takes to get their business so be it.”
Most national fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s have drive-thru features, but it’s rare for convenience stores to have one, contends Cameron Johnson, a longtime Austin resident and retired retail manager.
“I worked at Walgreens for 20 years and it wasn’t until 2000 when Walgreens began installing drive-thru lanes at all its corner stores,” recalled Johnson, 71. “The philosophy retail stores now have is to make it as easy as possible for people to spend their money.”
But beyond milk and bread commonly sold at most convenience stores, In & Out also sells tobacco products, medicines and even frozen pizza. No alcohol is sold and an ATM machine is on-site for customers.
“The things we sell are things our customers have told us they want,” explained Hamed. “This makes it easier for them to use the drive-thru, because the items they purchase are small enough to fit through the [drive-thru] window.”
Hamed added that the store owner, who according to city records is identified as Omar Alwan, has another In & Out Food Mart with a drive-thru at 4200 W. Madison St. in West Garfield Park and three more stores on the South Side. Alwan was unavailable for comment.
One senior said she prefers drive-thru retail stores because they’re safer.
“I had knee replacement surgery 20 years ago and I still walk with a limp. Getting in and out of my car is difficult for me and I’d rather sit in my car to conduct my business,” said Austin resident Earl Sprowles, 68. “And there’s nothing safer than a drive-thru at night. If I am inside my car when someone tries to rob me I can drive off, but on foot I am a sitting duck!”
However, a drive-thru is not appealing to some young people who may not have vehicles and may prefer face-to-face contact when shopping.
“Me personally, I like to see my food when I am buying something from the store,” Chip Watson, 18, said after buying some candy, chips and a pop from In & Out in West Garfield Park. “Even if I had a car I would park and go inside to buy something. That’s just me.”
“I go to the corner store a lot to get little things I run out of and I like to go inside to make sure I am not given the wrong thing,” said Tara Goolsby, 25. “Plus, I like to walk and get my stuff and not be lazy driving like a lot of people do.”