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Owners predict the day of the community convenience store is coming to a close
Art Wight and Judy Hutton say that after almost 30 years with the City Superette, it was a heartbreaking decision to close the doors of the downtown institution.
The City Superette, at the corner of Springdale Street and Pleasant Street, has been with Wight and Hutton for almost 30 years, offering groceries, home-cooked meals and a case of beer to the residents who lived nearby.
They have decided it is time to move on from the business. The space is now for sale, but after two years already on the market, Wight says he’s not hopeful another convenience store will fill the space.
“It was our baby." — Judy Hutton
While the business filled the couple’s hearts over the years, it wasn’t filling their wallet as it once had.
“These small convenience stores? I think the day is gone,” said Wight, who will carry on as a real estate agent with the store’s closure.
The day was over a century going for the little store. Wight and Hutton say to the best of their knowledge, the building has housed a convenience store since 1886.
He says larger businesses have encroached more and more on the staple sales of local convenience stores, which makes it harder and harder for the independent stores to make a go of it. Wight points to more supermarkets in the capital city and an increased presence of gas stations that double as convenience stores as part of the reason running the small, independent convenience store got more and more difficult.
“The business has changed insomuch as when we were there 30 years ago, nobody was in the food business, aside from the major supermarkets,” said Wight.
“For us to buy normally as we would from wholesalers – which are also owned by either Dominion or Sobeys – we couldn’t afford to buy through them and put our mark-up on it, because we’d be way outside the price range of what people could buy elsewhere.”
Lowered prices on food for the store also took a bite out of staples of convenience stores: lotto tickets, beer, and cigarettes.
Wight says the profit on a dozen beer at the store was about $1.20 per case, with lotto tickets offering no profit, and higher cigarette prices leaving little to any profit for the independent retailer.
Couple all those factors with Wight and Hutton approaching retirement, and it’s easy to see why the pair thought now was the time to let go.
Hutton says when things first got going, she would make the pre-prepared food in the store herself. Her days were filled with huge potato sacks, to be cut and fried, along with up to 80 hamburgers a day.
Hutton drew a napkin out of her pocket to pat the mist around her eyes as she thought of the years spent with the store. She says it was special to be the beating heart of the neighborhood.
“It was our baby,” she said, before describing the final trip to the City Superette.
“I thought we were going for a coffee, and he says, ‘Let’s go pay our respects.’ I thought, ‘Who died?’ It was a bigger shock to me. I hadn’t seen it disassembled.”
The City Superette is the third small, independent convenience store to close its doors in the downtown area recently.
In January, Doreen Taylor and Marcelle Hickey closed the doors of the Flower Hill Convenience after 26 years.
In October 2017, Dave D’Entremont closed the doors of the Long’s Hill Convenience.
While each store’s closure has its own reasoning, Wight says the calls he’s been getting with interest for the equipment being sold off from the store could give a hint of what’s happening to the local convenience store industry on the island.
“All the calls I’m getting are from central or western Newfoundland, from Conception Bay South – out around the bay where the supermarkets haven’t turned up just yet,” he said.
“These guys are still making a go of it. But I haven’t had one call from a store in St. John’s. From talking to other owners, I bet if you went to just about any independent in St. John’s right now and said, ‘Would you like to sell,’ they’d all be anxious to sell.”