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Prince George convenience store closure a sign of troubling times

Constant harassment from homeless drifters, drug users and shoplifters convinces 7-Eleven to permanently shutter store at 1720 Queensway

The 7-Eleven convenience store at Queensway and 17th Avenue closed its doors permanently on Monday and Brian Gilliard was delighted to see it happen.

The former property manager of two apartment buildings on Ingledew Avenue across the street from the store, Gilliard has had nothing but headaches dealing with vagrants who frequented the area. Now that the store is closed he’s thinking the street people who shot drugs, burnt door signs, painted graffiti and used apartment entranceways as their toilets will no longer have a reason to be there.

“I’m glad it’s closed,” said Gilliard, who lives on the property. “They’d come to the store first thing in the morning and come over to my stairway and set fires. They tore my door apart. There was feces and sanitary napkins I had to pick up, it was pretty bad. My neighbour would dump a bucket a water on them (from an upper balcony) to get ‘em out and they still wouldn’t move.”

In the two years he managed the property, Gilliard said he had to get the RCMP involved to chase off people who set up a tent on the apartment lawn and were tapping into an electrical outlet. It happened often enough that he says the police know his name. He’s noticed a difference now that the 7-Eleven is gone.

“Since they closed, I’ve had nobody here,” he said. “I’ve only seen one person laying on the concrete over at the store since they closed. When they closed (the Moccasin Flats homeless encampment) down the hill from Patricia, all the vagrants started coming this way.”

Gilliard, whose contract as property manager was not renewed when the buildings were sold two weeks ago, says the problem with down-and-out visitors in the area has gotten worse over the past year and he’s convinced drug use is the biggest contributing factor.

“It’s drugs and deregulation - now small amounts of cocaine are legal, it’s getting worse and worse,” he said. “And they say there’s no work but there’s lots of work. They just don’t want to work.”

Chris Vigil, a 7-Eleven Canada district manager who oversees the company’s store operations in Prince George, said the Queensway store was a constant headache for staff and customers who felt threatened by people who stole from store shelves and loitered in the parking lot, where they consumed their drugs and alcohol. It got to the point where many his customers were afraid to go to the store and were avoiding it.

The Queensway store lease expires at the end of the month and Vigil said the company based its decision not to renew because of the problems caused by a small percentage of undesirables who frequented the store, which 7-Eleven Canada has operated for more than 25 years,. He said the 7-Eleven store at 1588 20th Ave faces similar problems with drug/alcohol use, shoplifting and people threatening the security of employees and customers, but the company owns that store outright and is not considering closing it.

“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. We hired Paladin Security to help us out but it didn’t help.”  

Vigil says the shoplifting problem is not so bad in the morning but by 3 p.m. there’s a noticeable increase in incidents of theft. They get chased off by security and are back a half-hour later.

“The safety of my employees is very important and I told them you should call them out but don’t go near them or stop them,” said Vigil. “We explained the situation to our customers and especially in the evening , because of those people outside hanging out in the parking lot, most of our customers were afraid to go to the store and that’s one of the reasons (for the closure).

“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.”