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A dispute between the owner of a 7-Eleven in Osaka Prefecture and the operator of the nation’s largest convenience store chain has shed light on questions over the sustainability of convenience stores’ round-the-clock service — which is widely taken for granted by consumers — as many of the stores face growing difficulties securing enough manpower to keep running amid the tightening labor shortage. Convenience store chain operators say their shops’ 24-hour service has been established as social infrastructure supported by consumers. But the companies — and consumers — should also give thought to who is sustaining this convenience and at what cost.

At the beginning of February, the owner of a family-run 7-Eleven store in Higashiosaka decided to stay open 19 hours a day instead of 24 — from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. — as a staff shortage made it impossible to keep the doors open around the clock. The owner says he’s only been able to take three days off since his wife died last May, and he hasn’t been able to hire new staff since a large number of part-timers quit last April. But then the owner was reportedly told by Seven-Eleven Japan Co. that it would terminate his franchise contract and seek ¥17 million in penalties unless his shop went back to staying open 24 hours a day.

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