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

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.

Read online:
Starting a Business

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 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.

Contact us:
1-888-576-4444
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.

Read online:
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, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).

Contact CFIA:
1-800-442-2342
Regulated products and sectors

Contact OMAFRA:
1-877-424-1300
Regulations for the food industry

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

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)
Importing Tobacco
Illegal (Contraband)Tobacco 
Learn about the Ontario Tobacco Tax and who needs to register

Smoke-Free Ontario

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.

Contact your local Public Health Unit: 
Public Health Unit Locations 
Smoke-Free Ontario – How the Act Affects You

Tobacco Sales

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.

Read Online:
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.

Contact AMO:
1-877-426-6527
Association of Municipalities of Ontario

Video/Film Licensing

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:
1-844-229-8009
Industry Resources

Music licence

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 licence(s).

Contact SOCAN:
1-866-944-6223
Music license finder for 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.

Contact Re:Sound:
1-877-309-5770
Re:Sound

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

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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

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

Government departments and agencies provide financing such as grants, contributions, subsidies and loan guarantees. Find out what type of government financing may be available for your business. Use the program search tool or browse by type of financing.

Search online:
Government grants and financing

Other resources

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

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

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

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.