During the recession, Subway sandwich shops and dollar stores were among the few businesses that were growing and thriving in small-town America; the proliferation of Subway was attributed to the relative ease of acquiring a franchise. Then, as the economy recovered, and more competitors were able to attract market share, it was inevitable the Subway bubble would shrink. In 2016, a net 359 Subway stores closed in the United States, marking the first time the company had ever closed more than it opened. In 2017, a net 909 US stores closed. Globally, the store count is now 44,014, down 471 from 2016, and store traffic has fallen 25% in the last five years. Corporate leadership, which has always stressed the importance of supporting franchisees, is trying to drum up business with a new store design, a digital loyalty program, and the reintroduction of the $5 footlong subs. Franchisees disagree about the efficacy of the latter move; no fewer than 400 of them have reportedly signed a protest petition.