Southland Corp. said it plans to virtually halt construction of new 7-Eleven convenience stores for the immediate future and use operating cash to repay debt on the founding family's leveraged buyout completed in December.

The Dallas-based company, which is privately owned, revealed its plan in the company's corporate profile.Southland's construction and acquisition program that added more than 1,600 stores in the past three years should keep Southland the largest U.S. convenience store operator, a company spokeswoman said.

Despite the shift in strategy following the Thompson family's $4.9 billion leveraged buyout, Southland will continue to operate about 7,500 convenience stores in 1988, about 3,000 more than closest competitor Circle K Corp. of Phoenix.

Circle K earlier this month purchased 473 7-Eleven stores for $162 million and bought 538 stores from the Charter Co.