How to start a convenience store in Ontario
Table of contents
A convenience store (sometimes called a variety store or corner store) is usually a small store or shop that sells items such as snack foods, lottery tickets, tobacco products, newspapers and magazines. Many convenience stores also combine their services with a gas station, movie rentals, or a fast food outlet.
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 business start-up 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 the Canada Business Permits and Licences Search, powered by 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. Local health authorities are responsible for carrying out food service inspections.
You should contact your local health authority and arrange an inspection of the premises, equipment and processes to make sure your business is complying with provincial and federal legislation.
The following link provides contact information for local health authorities that perform inspections on restaurants and food businesses in Ontario.
Local public health contacts
In addition to contacting your local health unit, if you are involved in the production, service or processing of food products, you will need to comply with safety standards and labelling regulations from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).
Regulated products and sectors
Regulations for the food industry
Selling Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) products
If you plan on selling lottery products on behalf of the OLG, you must be registered with the AGCO.
Selling break open tickets
A licence is required from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) in order to sell Break Open tickets.
AGCO - break open ticket
Tobacco Retail Dealer's Permit
In order to sell tobacco products, you are required to have a Tobacco Retail Dealer's Permit. If you plan on importing tobacco products, you will also need an importer's registration certificate.
Stocking or selling 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.
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 is regulated in Canada. Find out what regulations will affect your business if you sell tobacco products.
Tobacco: Federal Regulations
If you sell tobacco products, 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. The Copyright Board of Canada works with individual copyright collective societies who provide music licensing. Contact the following two organizations for more information.
Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) Music Licence
SOCAN is a not-for-profit organization that represents the performance rights of music creators and music publishers. They can help you learn about your obligations and obtaining the required license(s).
Tariffs & forms - Music in a business
Re:Sound Music Licensing Company
Re:Sound is the Canadian not-for-profit organization that represents the performance rights of artists and record companies, and provides the legally required licence(s) for businesses. You can get help determining what licence(s) will be required, what the licensing process will be and how much it will cost.
If you have legal questions, contact a lawyer who deals with business regulations. The Law Society of Upper Canada's Law Society Referral 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
Additional Tax requirements for convenience store owners in Ontario
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:
Canada Business can help you find government financing options for your business. There are programs that apply to businesses across Canada, and others that apply only to businesses in Ontario. Use the Canada Business financing search tool or browse by type of financing.
Canada Business: Government grants and financing
For more information that relates to starting your business, you can read the following guides:
- Business planning
- 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
- Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers
- Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education
- 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 Canada Business Ontario (CBO) community partner, contact us at 1-888-576-4444.