Convenience stores have only entered common usage relatively recently – since the 90s became the dubious decade that wholeheartedly embraced convenience, these stores have cropped up as a necessity that had never before seemed essential. According to the Canadian Government, there are three denominations of these stores:
- Convenience Store: specializes in selling basic food items, a variety of small non-food items and often includes movie rentals.
- Convenience Store/Gas Station: a convenience store combined with a place for supplying motor vehicles with gasoline, motor oil, water, etc.
- Franchise: the privilege, often exclusive, of selling the products of a manufacturer or providing a company's service in a given area.
While I remain unconvinced of this inherent privilege, most convenience stores are merely franchises of a bigger market, such as the all-powerful Seven-Eleven or Couche-Tard’s ever-growing Mac’s chain as the corporation in question covers the majority of the operation costs including all utilities, inventory and taxes, thus making it extremely easy for the continued popping-up of these outlets. The key to conceiving a profitable convenience store lies entirely in the location; nearby stores that could bring about downfall are known as “convenience goods stores,” which may include supermarkets, hardware stores, bakeries, package stores, and drug stores. If a shop is set up too close to an established goods store, people will be less willing to support the business, ultimately leading to the full-scale collapse of the new convenience store.
The Government suggests, to avoid such catastrophic ends, that the retailer offer a variety of goods to appeal to the average consumer. While each store must fine tune its inventory based on the wants of their consumers, blanket statistics provide a useful framework: “Groceries - 26%, Cookies/Snacks - 7%, Ice Cream - 4%, Candy - 3%, Soft Drinks - 12%, Frozen Snacks - 5%, Health/Beauty - 4%, Meat - 2%, Dairy - 10%, Non-foods - 5%, Produce - 3%, Tobacco - 2%, Deli Items - 7%, Magazines - 5%, Baked Goods - 3%, Other - 2%.” However, this breakdown divides food-based items into categories that could be easily lumped together. For taxation purposes, the government separates food sales into three separate categories – prepared, snacks and soft drinks:
“Prepared foods are ready-to-eat foods bought from an eating establishment, and include take-out and eat-in service. Examples of prepared foods are meals, pizzas, sandwiches, hand-scooped ice cream, five or fewer pastries, and non-alcoholic drinks such as coffee, tea, milk and juice. Snack foods include candies, gum, chips, pretzels, ice cream bars, and individual portions of prepackaged snack cakes or prepackaged pastries. Soft drinks are non-alcoholic drinks, such as pop, bottled water and fruit drinks with less than 25 per cent natural fruit juice.”
What a sad state of affairs when consumers recognize a drink as a fruit drink without much fruit juice used at all - give it up for synthetic fruit! Yet convenience has become a large part of everyday life. Grocery stores and large commercial outlets alienate us from our neighbourhoods, to the point that we now see Riverdale farm isolated in the east end of Toronto framed by the DVP; grocery stores carry inexpensive meat, directly affecting business of the local butcher; restaurants import cheaper produce rather than buying it from a local farmer, regardless of chemical additives that preserve food just long enough to serve. Convenience stores have become a capitalist staple – a retail market that profits via markups and the societal necessity to have snacks close at hand, no matter the cost. Eventually, all convenience stores begin to look the same and I had resigned myself to this actuality, until recently informed of a courageous spin on an Eglinton West convenience store from my friend Nuke Wasteland.
Nuke owns Eglinton West like the Toronto Maple Leafs own a pronounced sense of failure: an unfathomable badass delivered inside a nuclear reactor by Mephistopheles and sired by a quark. Yeah, there’s really no reason to question his judgment whatsoever. So when Nuke boldly purports that the best sushi he’s ever tasted is at a crossroad a few blocks east of Eglinton West and Spadina, located in a convenience store run by a florist that employs a Sushi chef, I know it will make for a radioactively good time. We strut past rich high schools and lesser East-Asian restaurants until we reach our goal, an unassuming building that boldly displays its services, a myriad of fresh flowers flowing onto the sidewalk.
After a proud flourishing gesture and a photo-op of our destination, Nuke leads the way through the door into the cleanest, most neatly organized convenience store I have been to in my life; not one box of cookies out of place nor an errant chocolate bar to be seen. Nuke shows me through an aisle to the back room where the sushi and DVD rentals reside. The entrance to the dining room is flanked by a few standing spools of holiday cards on the right and a Haagen-Dazs freezer on the left, on which an old VCR-endowed TV displays an orchestra playing the gamut of royalty-free songs, including a medley of Scottish pipes, Happy New Year and an odd Brazilian rendition of Beethoven’s fifth. Nuke informs me that this tape runs consistently on repeat. Taking a step inside, a fridge filled exclusively with dairy products lines one wall while the movie rentals dominate the other. Unfortunately, the one available table is full; not to worry, they’re nearly finished and we can wait on the removed car seat doubling as a bench. The sushi is served from a single counter tucked into the back corner, adorned with the standard lucky hand-waving cat, a self-serve coffee jug, speakers for the enthusiastic European conductor and a sign on the wall displaying the specials: today they are serving “Salmon and Abocado” rolls. While waiting for our seat we each grab a drink from inside the convenience store, for we have the advantage of choosing from the large drink selection of the adjoining store. I casually glance over the menu options, but Nuke has already chosen our meal: the Black Dragon roll and the Spicy Salmon pizza, toppings served on a bed of deep-fried rice. We aren’t given personal plates, but a bouquet of fresh flowers sprout from a plastic water bottle, a welcome addition to the peculiar dining room. The zealous composer moves onto a Jewish Hava Nagila and the virtual audience rises to dance their appreciation.
When our meal arrives I am pleased to see I actually receive, instead of a chopped up roll of sushi, an actual black dragon, albeit a runty infant dragon. The Black Dragon is served as a cohesive whole: a tail of shrimp sticks playfully out the back of the roll, scales of black seaweed crisscross the back and the head is buried in a pile of ginger and parsley. The innards are composed of avocado, crab, cucumber, red tobiko, barbequed eel, shrimp and lettuce. The Spicy salmon pizza turns out to be a Spicy salmon mountain: the tempura-coated rice disk supports a pile of raw salmon, cucumber and crab, capped with red tobiko. Volcanic torrents of spicy orange sauce run down the sides and although Nuke warns me of the sauce-fury, I misjudge my bite and am forced to clamp my mouth firmly around my Snapple, washing away the severe edge of this antagonistic sauce, made primarily from Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce, that swiftly overwhelms my taste buds.
Whether the sushi chef uses local ingredients I cannot say, as he does not speak enough English to properly inquire, but the sushi is incredible regardless. This convenience store has no need of a lucky hand-waving cat to convince me of the diversity of services they provide: I use the convenience store to purchase my drink, eat from the sushi counter at the back, and on the way out am able to purchase a bouquet of roses for Mother’s Day. This sushi diner is a gem hidden in a neighbourhood that caters staunchly to the middle class suburban wife; while downtown residents take the book, coffee and other various independent shops downtown for granted, those that live in midtown are lambasted with gaudy dress shops, pottery depots and lesser cuisine, all of which close early.
There are two outlooks on this convenience development as an influence on the neighbourhood. Obviously our culture has embraced these stores, regardless of their implications to local businesses, but this convenience store may have underlying advantages. If ingredients are purchased locally, the sushi depot supports local farmers and butchers, which is certainly admirable. In addition, the foreign chef has found a position to thrive in this neighbourhood and serves a quality meal, which I cannot begrudge him for – this joint business venture has many facets that appeal to the local consumer and will continue to do so for many years. However, although I myself frequent these stores to fuel my snacking addiction, I cannot shake the negative sensation I reserve for convenience retail. These stores, for the most part, truly subvert the efforts of other local locations: instead of sitting down to a meal with family and friends, enjoying the effort of an independent restaurant that undertakes something new, our culture accepts that which comes easily and quickly due to the encouraged reception of prepackaged cuisine, regardless of the corporate stronghold in production. I would never buy bread from a convenience store when, on Dundas street alone, several Portuguese bakers compete for clientele. Although there can be no proper solution to this issue, a good dichotomy can exist between local efforts and large corporations to sway the influence of these middle retailers that simply strive to find their own corner of the world from which to operate. Unfortunately, there is no universal ground that influences the incentive of these retailers outside of money, so I’ll lend my support to this Eglinton West branch that bends the strict parameters of the convenience market, allowing a successful sushi branch to grow from within and become a part of a fairly reserved capitalist neighbourhood.
Works Cited, peruse these links at your own convenience!