C-Stores Association Visits St. Thomas to Expose
the Inner Workings of the Contraband Tobacco Industry in Ontario
Close to 350 smoke shacks in Ontario and Quebec are making it virtually impossible for legitimate convenience store retailers to compete in the sale of tobacco products. Every other day, an Ontario convenience store closes its doors.
The Canadian Convenience Stores Association (CCSA) is “raising the roof” on smoke shacks by inviting media to the St. Thomas stop of a 25-city Ontario tour aimed at educating the public about the inner workings of the contraband tobacco industry and the huge economic and social implications that illicit tobacco has on both Native and non-native communities.
Our municipal officials have had a relatively easy go of it when it comes to fielding criticism from a disgruntled electorate. Sure, every member of council, Mayor Cliff Barwick included, fields calls and emails from upset residents on a weekly basis.
That is about to change Monday evening as former mayor Janet Golding turns up the heat as she stands before council to demand action on a matter no alderman has had the moxie to confront — unsafe crosswalks.
The Times-Journal headline two weeks ago today lays it on the line, “Two crosswalk lines … ‘mean nothing.’
What’s more likely to transpire first — a new consolidated courthouse for St. Thomas and Elgin or the Leafs returning to respectability?
With their impressive preseason record (faded somewhat by an opening night loss to the Habs, of all teams) the latter may be the safer bet.
That possibility prompted local barrister and solicitor Mervin Riddell to vent his frustration via a letter to City Scope.
“I urge city council to end the impasse with the province and support the construction of a new consolidated court facility,” he writes.
Ah, but here’s the kicker.
“At a location other than the 4 Wellington St. (existing Elgin County courthouse) location. The city’s lack of support for a new location will, in my respectful opinion, only continue the present delay and the absolute embarrassment of the facilities already in place.”
Awareness may be the sole ray of sunshine arising from the rubble and ruin of Alma College.
And, how appropriate in the same week two teenaged jokesters were slapped on the wrist for torching the main building at the former school for girls, the St. Thomas-Elgin branch of Architectural Conservancy of Ontario warns a similar fate of destruction by neglect could be in store for other educational facilities in the city.
The local ACO branch was established earlier this year to counter the lack of will from all levels of government to protect heritage properties in St. Thomas and Elgin.
At a public forum held Tuesday, it was noted a half-dozen city schools have either closed or will do so in the near future.
Last week in this corner we talked with Mary (not her real name), a convenience store operator in St. Thomas about the impact of contraband tobacco sales on her shop and other outlets in the city.
She warned several neighbourhood variety stores have either closed or are teetering as the result of the sale of illegal cigarettes in St. Thomas and Elgin.
Here’s a far more sobering warning — cigarettes are now for sale in city schoolyards (both high school and elementary) that cost less than a pack of gum.
“There are kids selling bags of cigarettes at the high schools,” advises Mary. “I’ve seen kids smoking outside Scott Street Public School. Where are they getting those?”
Owning, operating or even working in a convenience store in St. Thomas, or for that matter anywhere, is not for the faint-hearted.
Long hours, the constant tussle with theft and miniscule profit margins don’t paint a rosy picture for employment, or investment, in a corner variety store.
But those are minor inconveniences compared to the death struggle now facing Mary (not her real name) who has put in a minimum 60-hour week at her variety store for more than a dozen years.
Contraband tobacco — two words that have become a rallying cry for Mary and the owners of about 9,000 convenience stores in the province.