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 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.

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 Licenses 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 and 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

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.

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

Selling break open tickets

A licence is required from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) in order to sell Break Open tickets.

Contact AGCO:
1-800-522-2876
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.

Contact the Ministry of Revenue:
1-866-ONT-TAXS (1-866-668-8297)
Tobacco Retail Dealer's Permit
Illegal Tobacco

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 is regulated in Canada. Find out what regulations will affect your business if you sell tobacco products.

Read Online:
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.

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 license(s).

Contact SOCAN:
1-800-557-6226
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 license(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

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.

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

Additional Tax requirements for convenience store owners in Ontario

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

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.

Search online:
Canada Business: 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.