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How to Start a Convenience Store in Ontario

Table of contents

Introduction
Getting Started
Regulations
Taxation
Financing
Other resources

Introduction

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.

Getting started

Getting Started

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.

Read online:
Starting a Business

    Regulations

    Regulations

    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.

    Use online:
    Permits and licences search


      Some common licences, permits and regulations that may apply to starting your convenience store include:

      Food Safety and Labelling

      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.

      Read online:
      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.

      Contact CFIA:
      1-800-442-2342
      Food licences
      Food safety for industry
      Toolkit for businesses
      Labelling, standards of identity and grades

      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.

      Contact OMAFRA:
      1-877-424-1300
      Food Inspection Programs

      Ontario Ministry of Health

      Home-based food businesses are allowed to sell low-risk, home-prepared foods and are exempt from certain regulatory requirements, such as specified handwashing stations in food premises, compliance with commercial dishwashing requirements and food handling training certification.

      Low-risk food items are generally considered non-hazardous and do not require time and temperature control. Some examples of low-risk foods include:

      • Most breads and buns (without meat, cream filling, etc.)
      • Most baked goods (with no custard)
      • Chocolate, hard candies and brittles
      • Fudge and toffees
      • Pickles, jams and preserves
      • Granola, trail mix, nuts and seeds
      • Cakes (icing that doesn’t require refrigeration), brownies, muffins and cookies
      • Coffee beans and tea leaves

      For more information contact your local public health unit:
      Ontario Ministry of Health - Environmental Health
      Local public health contacts

        Lottery tickets

        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).

        Contact AGCO:
        1-800-522-2876
        Lottery retailer

        Single-use plastics rules and restrictions

        Single-use plastics rules and restrictions

        There are rules and restrictions for using, selling, importing and exporting single-use plastics that may apply to your business. The regulations include common items such as plastic bags, cutlery, straws and various containers. Refer to the Environment and Climate Change Canada’s website for the regulations and guidance on alternative products for your business. 

        Contact Environment and Climate Change Canada:
        PlastiquesUU-SUPlastics@ec.gc.ca
        Single-use Plastics Prohibition Regulations

         

        Tobacco Retail Dealer Permit

        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:
        1-866-ONT-TAXS (1-866-668-8297)
        Rules for Tobacco Retail Dealers
        Tobacco Retail Dealer's Permit (PDF)
        Illegal (Contraband)Tobacco 
        Learn about the Ontario Tobacco Tax and who needs to register

               

              Music licence

              Music licence

              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:

              Entandem

              Organizations that use music are legally required to obtain applicable RE:SOUND and SOCAN licences. Entandem enables businesses that use music to obtain both licences at one time, through a single music licence, so that rights-holders can be compensated for what they have fairly and legally earned through their work.

              Contact Entandem:
              license@entandemlicensing.com
              Entandem

                Lawyer Referral Service

                Legal questions

                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:
                1-855-255-7256

                *

                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.

                Use online:
                Law Society Referral Service

                  Taxation

                  Taxation

                  Depending on your location and the type of products or services being offered, federal, provincial and/or municipal business taxes may apply.

                  Read online:
                  Taxation guide

                  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.

                  Contact CRA:
                  1-800-959-5525
                  Canada Revenue Agency

                    Tobacco tax

                    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:
                    1-866-ONT-TAXS (1-866-668-8297)
                    Tobacco tax

                    Financing

                    Financing

                    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.

                    Search online:
                    Business Benefits Finder

                        Other resources

                        For more information that relates to starting your business, you can read the following guides:

                        Additional resources include:

                            Statistics: Retail Sales (Statistics Canada)

                            Websites of Interest

                            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:
                            1-888-373-8245
                            Retail Council of Canada