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How to start a convenience store in Ontario
Table of contents
A convenience store (sometimes called a variety store or corner store) is a small retail business that sells everyday items including snack foods, dry and canned goods, milk and cream, lottery tickets, tobacco products, newspapers and magazines. Convenience stores are often located in highly-travelled, accessible and visible areas, such as near gas stations, and they are usually open late.
This guide focuses on operating an independent store. For more information about buying a franchise, visit The Canadian Franchise Association website or call them at 1-800-665-4232.
When you start a business there are several things to consider before you can sell your product or service. Most businesses in Ontario need to complete a minimum of three basic steps:
- Find out what licences and regulations apply to your type of business
- Choose a business structure and register or incorporate your business
- Determine if you will need to collect and remit HST
Our Starting a Business guide will give you more information on these steps and other basic requirements for starting a business in Ontario.
Starting a Business
Your business may need licences and permits from the federal, provincial and municipal levels of government.
In addition to the information you will find in this guide, you can use BizPaL to find licences and regulations that may affect your business. You can also contact us to speak to someone about starting your business.
Permits and licences search
Some common licences, permits and regulations that may apply to starting your convenience store include:
Food safety and labelling
Your local health unit is the main contact for information on food safety and inspections.
Contact your local health authority to arrange an inspection of your business location, equipment and processes and make sure your business is complying with provincial and federal legislation.
The following link provides contact information for local health authorities that inspect food businesses in Ontario.
Local public health contacts
You also need to follow safety standards and labelling rules if you produce, service, process or manufacture food.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)
Most businesses that buy, sell, ship, process or manufacture food will have CFIA regulations to follow.
These regulations may require you to:
- Obtain a licence
- Keep records
- Properly label packaged foods
Activities that are regulated include:
- Importing foods for re-sale
- Selling food to the public, retail food sales
- Shipping food products to another province or territory
- Producing, manufacturing or advertising food products
Check with the CFIA to find out which requirements apply to your business.
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA)
You may have regulations or inspection standards to follow if you produce, transport or manufacture specific food products in Ontario. Regulated products include dairy, eggs, fish, meat, honey and other plant-based products. Contact the Ministry directly to find out what will apply to your business.
Regulations for the food industry
If you plan on selling lottery products on behalf of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), or selling break open tickets, you must be registered with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO).
Tobacco Retail Dealer's Permit
In order to sell tobacco products, you are required to have an Ontario Tobacco Retail Dealer's Permit. If you plan on importing tobacco products, you will also need an importer's registration certificate.
Stocking or selling illegal (or contraband) cigarettes that do not have an Ontario tax mark (yellow tear strip) is prohibited. Unauthorized possession of unmarked cigarettes may result in penalties, fines, imprisonment and forfeiture of the product.
There are also other commercial activities in the tobacco sector that require registration with the Ontario Ministry of Finance.
Contact the Ministry of Finance:
Rules for Tobacco Retail Dealers
Tobacco Retail Dealer's Permit (PDF)
Learn about the Ontario Tobacco Tax and who needs to register
Find out what your responsibilities are for marketing, packaging or displaying tobacco products. You must also follow the regulations that apply to smoking in public places like offices, shops, or bars and restaurants.
The manufacture, sale, labelling and promotion of tobacco products are regulated in Canada. Find out what federal regulations will affect your business if you sell tobacco products.
Tobacco: Federal Regulations
You should also contact the municipality where the business will be operating for any local licences or permits that you may need.
Association of Municipalities of Ontario
Businesses selling or renting videos directly to the public (including through vending machines) require a Retailer licence. If you are distributing videos to other retailers you will also need a Distributor licence.
Contact the Ontario Film Authority:
When your business uses recorded music, you are responsible for obtaining the right licence(s) for that use. Contact the following organization for more information:
Organizations that use music are legally required to obtain applicable RE:SOUND and SOCAN licences. Entandem enables businesses that use music to complete both licences at one time, through a single music license, so that rights-holders can be compensated for what they have fairly and legally earned through their work.
You can contact Pro Bono Ontario’s free legal advice hotline to enquire about getting help with your everyday civil legal needs (no family law or criminal law). The service is generally aimed at those who cannot afford a lawyer.
Note that service is not guaranteed and you will be asked questions as part of the qualifying process, such as the amount of personal income earned by your household, your name, postal code and age range.
Contact Pro Bono Ontario’s Free Legal Advice Hotline:
You can also contact the Law Society of Ontario's Law Society Referral Service if you have legal questions of a business nature. The service may be able to assist you in finding a lawyer or paralegal, based on your needs.
Law Society Referral Service
Depending on your location and the type of products or services being offered, federal, provincial and/or municipal business taxes may apply.
If you sell goods and services in Ontario, you may need a business number to collect and remit the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). Most businesses that make less than $30,000 in any 12-month period are not required to charge HST; however, you can register voluntarily and claim input tax credits. Speak with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) for more information.
Canada Revenue Agency
In addition to general information, you can find information on specific registrations, reporting, remitting and record-keeping requirements for Ontario's tobacco tax.
Contact the Ministry of Revenue:
Grants, contributions, subsidies and loan guarantees are available from various government sources. Use Innovation Canada’s online search tool to look for programs and services that may apply to your business.
Grow your business
For more information that relates to starting your business, you can read the following guides:
- Market research and statistics
- Starting a Business
- Loans and grants
- Taxation guide
- Employment regulations: hiring
Additional resources include:
If you are interested in finding an association, use our secondary market research service request and have us search for one based on your needs.
Statistics: Retail Sales (Statistics Canada)
Websites of Interest
- Ontario Convenience Stores Association (OCSA)
- Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers
- Food Recalls and Allergy Alerts
The Retail Council of Canada (RCC)
The RCC is a not-for-profit, industry-funded association representing more than 43,000 store fronts of all retail formats across Canada, including online merchants. They provide resources for training, host events, and act as an advocacy group on behalf on Canadian retail merchants.
Contact the RCC:
Retail Council of Canada
You can also find books, magazines and other relevant print material at business service organizations in your community. To locate a Small Business Services (SBS) community partner, contact us at 1-888-576-4444.