Thornhill mom-and-pop shop fights back

Over 500 in­de­pen­dent con­ve­nience stores have closed down since 2009

Richmond Hill Post - - News - by Jes­sica Wei

A new cam­paign ini­ti­ated by the On­tario Korean Busi­ness­men’s As­so­ci­a­tion (OKBA) kicked off at Bros. Con­ve­nience store in Thornhill last month. The Save Our Stores cam­paign is hop­ing to rally sup­port for in­de­pen­dent con­ve­nience stores while protest­ing sev­eral con­cerns in time for the 2018 pro­vin­cial elec­tions.

The OKBA hopes to send a mes­sage to the Lib­eral, NDP and PC par­ties to con­sider amend­ing cur­rent poli­cies it be­lieves are detri­men­tal to the as­so­ci­a­tion’s busi­nesses, in­clud­ing the spread of con­tra­band to­bacco, sky­rock­et­ing elec­tric­ity bills and in­creased min­i­mum wage.

Ac­cord­ing to Don Cha, the gen­eral man­ager of the OKBA, over 500 con­ve­nience stores in the OKBA have closed down since 2009.

“I’ve been lob­by­ing [the prov­ince] for the last four to five years,” said Cha. “They seem to be lis­ten­ing, but they’re not do­ing any­thing.”

Bros. Con­ve­nience store has been run­ning for the last 15 years. Hak Yong Kim, who owns the store with his wife, Ru­sia Seo, said that his main chal­lenge has been with con­tra­band to­bacco.

“My cig­a­rette sales went down more than 40 per cent com­pared to seven years ago be­cause peo­ple are buy­ing il­le­gal con­tra­band to­bacco,” he wrote in an email to Post City. “When cus­tomers stop com­ing to stores like mine to buy cig­a­rettes, we also lose sales on other prod­ucts.” Hak Yong and his wife work 12 to 14 hours ev­ery day and don’t have any other em­ploy­ees. Ac­cord­ing to him, he may not be able to hold on for much longer.

“We have put our life sav­ings in this busi­ness, and we are about to lose ev­ery­thing,” he wrote.

A state­ment from the On­tario Min­istry of Fi­nance is­sued to Post City in­di­cated that they are tak­ing mea­sures to tackle the OKBA’s con­cerns.

“When it comes to small busi­nesses, such as con­ve­nience stores, we have taken a num­ber of steps to im­prove eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity and com­pet­i­tive­ness,” wrote Jes­sica Martin, a spokesper­son for the min­istry, “To com­bat con­tra­band to­bacco, our gov­ern­ment, along with the OPP, es­tab­lished a ded­i­cated en­force­ment team to tackle or­ga­nized crime.” How­ever, Cha doesn’t feel these are suf­fi­cient long-term so­lu­tions. “I know there is a bill to con­trol con­tra­band to­bacco, but they’re not mov­ing fast enough,” said Cha. “Who­ever comes into power next year, I want them to pay at­ten­tion to us.”

“We have put our life sav­ings into this busi­ness, and we are about to lose ev­ery­thing.”

Ru­sia Seo Kim, co-owner of Bros. Con­ve­nience store

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