For the second time in six months, 7-Eleven is closing one of its downtown Prince George stores.
On Wednesday at 11:30 a.m., the convenience store and Esso gas bar at 1588 – 20th Ave. will close permanently.
The store has been faced with worsening problems over the past few years posed by undesirable individuals who loiter in the parking lot while openly consuming drugs and alcohol. The store also attracts a criminal element that steals items from the shelves and people who intimidate staff and other customers.
The gas bar remained open Tuesday afternoon but the lottery terminal and tickets, bank machine and hot food serving areas on the counter have all been removed. Store shelves are mostly empty of merchandise.
A 7-11 employee confirmed the store will be closing Wednesday but directed the Citizen to the corporate office in Surrey for further comment. The story will be updated if the company responds to an interview request.
In June, 7-Eleven closed its store at 1720 Queensway, citing problems with unruly customers who shoplifted and threatened the security of staff and other customers. Some customers feared for their safety and avoided the store because of the people hanging around the area.
At the time the Queensway store closed, the lease for that location was expiring and the company chose not to renew after operating the store there for more that 25 years. The 20th Avenue location had similar problems, but because the company owned the property, it was not earmarked for closure this past summer.
Two 7-11 customers the Citizen spoke to Tuesday said they will miss having their neighbourhood convenience store.
“It’s surprising it’s closing, I didn’t expect it,” said Lorne Tiljoe. “I went in to get a lottery ticket and they said it was closed, there’s no lottery tickets. This is a bad neighbourhood, there’s always people hanging out here. I could see it happening.
“People hang out on the side there and I’ve seen the police there where people have OD’d. 7-11 used to be the place to go for Slurpees and chicken and taters, it’s a surprise. It’s handy for guys, but I guess it’s a bad part of town. I don’t know what’s going on with the future.”
Mamadou Tounkara lives close by and asked why 7-11 is pulling the plug from its last remaining downtown Prince George location. He’s seen people hanging around the store openly using drugs and he’s had a few unpleasant confrontations with some of the people who frequent the store.
“When you park your car they bug you for money and when you say no sometimes they say, ‘F--- you,’” said Tounkara. “My buddy come here and go inside and he had a brushing machine in the back (of his truck) and they take it. It’s no good.
“I buy chicken wings all the time here, now where will I go to buy them? I use the Scotia bank (machine) here all the time to take money out and now it’s gone.”
Chris Vigil, a former 7-Eleven district manager no longer with the company, told the Citizen in June the shoplifting problem had gotten so bad at the Queensway store that culprits would get caught in the act by staff, then return to the store and try to steal again a half-hour later. The company hired a private security firm but the problems continued.
“The neighbourhood is really rough, I spent tons of money on infrastructure to keep the store running, and there was a huge decline in the customers coming to the store because of the outside issues that we were dealing with, with the homeless and the people staying outside,” said Vigil.
“Every day we had to send people away, in a nice way. We phoned the police multiple times in the day and sometimes it takes some time for them to respond. Sometimes that really frustrated my team. Sometimes they would come in an hour, sometimes two hours and according to my manager, sometimes they didn’t show up at all. Some of these people were stealing or harassing my employees inside or they would shoot their drugs outside the store.
“They become more aggressive at night or in the evening. We love our community and tried to maintain a clean image outside, but it’s painful every day you have to go through with it.”