Taking a moment to toast and remember the closed 7-Eleven

My family has lived in Parkdale for five years and that’s how the 7-Eleven at 90 Street and 118 Avenue became part of our lives: a quick run there for milk or eggs at night and for popsicles in the summer. Our kids celebrated National Free Slurpee day there once a year—a joyful moment!

Walking into the store, you would find a scene. People lined up at the front display case to order food, with others in the cash line buying huge Slurpees, lottery tickets, cigarettes, or bus passes. Usually there was an intense energy and sometimes an air of desperation: hungry people or folks lacking enough money to get a slice of pizza or even those with an immediate need for a washroom.

Most days, there would be people hanging out front and someone standing inside, just away from the door, looking out the window, resting.

It was not unusual to see a police car parked outside.

I was never there in the early morning hours, but I can imagine the possibilities under the bright fluorescent lights as the hours passed and most who ventured into the store were weary or cold or hurting.

The store staff were as friendly and professional as could be, given all the pressures: the unpredictable lineups at the cash registers, the high demand for Slurpees and the sometimes fickle machines, the edgy customers that they encountered and calmed as part of their work.

I just assumed the 7-Eleven would always be there on the Avenue. So when the store abruptly closed last September, I felt a sense of loss that took me by surprise.

That store was one of many I’ve known in small towns and big cities. In Toronto and London, England, 7-Eleven stores were familiar landmarks that I would tuck away in my memory. I would go in if needed to buy gum, warm up, get my bearings, or be safe. I believed I could ask for help if I needed it at any time of the day or night.

A report from the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) supports this idea of convenience stores as safe places, noting that “longer hours of operation, public restrooms and ease of access puts convenience store employees in a unique position to help customers in need of a safe haven.” The NACS advocates for employee training to assist customers escaping human trafficking and partners with a national non-profit to designate stores as safe places for youth under 21 to ask for help.

The store at 90 Street is now boarded up and for sale. The closing of the store is important, not only from the business standpoint but also because it raises complex issues about inclusion and safety for everyone who owns a business, works, or lives in the Avenue neighbourhoods, and for those who don’t have a place to call home and who might need help in the middle of the night.

Here’s a conversation starter proposed by community writer, Carissa Halton: As a gathering place, how did the 7-Eleven meet the needs of many in our diverse community? And, on a hopeful note, what will rise in its place to fill those needs? What are your stories of the 7-Eleven? Comment online on ratcreek.org.

Featured Image: The recent closure of the 7-Eleven on 118 Avenue raises important questions. | Jennifer Stewart