By: Amneet Mann, News Editor
The owners of the Minimart located on the second floor of Maggie Benston Centre (MBC) report a state of uncertainty regarding the convenience store’s future on the SFU Burnaby campus. Gideon Wong, who has been operating the Minimart at SFU since 2008 with his wife Carrie Li, spoke with The Peak on future possibilities the store may face.
Minimart’s current operating space falls under the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) lease that will be given back to SFU upon completion of the Student Union Building (SUB). Accordingly, Wong reported signing a new lease contract approximately a year ago which extended the Minimart lease up to December 14 of this year.
SFSS president Jas Randhawa spoke with The Peak via email regarding Minimart’s current contract: “While it is true that Minimart’s Maggie Benson Center lease expires on December 14th — this was based entirely off of the anticipated SUB completion date during that period.
“Once the SUB opens, SFU will have ultimate authority over leasing space in Maggie Benson Center whether it be to Mini Mart or someone else,” Randhawa added.
According to Wong, at approximately the same time Minimart signed the new contract, he was made aware of space reserved for the convenience store in the SUB which was noted on the floor plans for the new building.
Wong recalled that he was first told about the space reserved for Minimart in the SUB through a student who visited his store and asked him about the move. At the time, he was not aware of any plans of relocating the Minimart, but at the students recommendation, he looked into the matter.
“At that time, SFSS [had a] showroom, [with] all the models, [and] all the pictures. My Minimart’s name was there [sic],” said Wong, referring to the Level 2000 Floor Plans of the SUB which have the Minimart name labelled on a block adjacent to the MBC Food Court.
Wong then reported making an appointment with Marc Fontaine, general manager of the Build SFU project. In the first of three meetings Wong reported, Fontaine confirmed the space labelled on the SUB floor plans as reserved for Minimart.
“And then I talked about, ‘how big is it,’ and then we discussed lots of things,” said Wong. Over the course of his meetings with Fontaine, Wong discussed the size of the space, the room that would be available for the Minimart’s drinks and ice cream fridges, and the circuit layout.
Wong also recalled requesting a sink be built into the Minimart space, so that the store could receive a license to sell fresh-squeezed juice in the new area. “So from there, [Fontaine] said, ‘okay.’ So he’ll make a sink for me,” said Wong.
Early this year, Wong reported following up with Fontaine regarding the construction progress of the Minimart space in the SUB. “[Fontaine] said, ‘no, not yet. [The space is] not 100% for you,’” Wong remembered. “He said, ‘well, we haven’t decided yet. Which people [will get the space].’”
“So what, our discussion for the last few months, means nothing?”
Randhawa stated, “According to Marc Fontaine, there have been multiple meetings over the last few years between the SFSS and Mini Mart as the society presently manages a relationship with the Mini Mart owners. Additionally, Marc has stated that a few of these meetings have included discussions of space in the SUB for a convenience store.
“It is evident that Minimart has an expressed interest in the new student union building. Nothing has been formally offered to Mini Mart and by far no leases have been signed with specific terms regarding this (e.g. cost per square foot and operating costs).”
Wong reported following up with Fontaine to ask if there was an application process Minimart could go through to secure space or how to receive more information regarding the decision process. The latest email Wong sent Fontaine was approximately a month ago asking for an update. He was told the decision on which organizations or companies would obtain space in the SUB had not yet been made.
“He has told me that he will do a survey, see if people like me. [sic] I don’t know if he did it or not,” said Wong.
Randhawa confirmed that a decision had not yet been made regarding the retail space available in the SUB.
“It is important for the student society to have a understanding of what students needs really are before establishing a convenience store in the new student union building,” Randhawa wrote.
He added that “Fontaine has categorically stated that there had been ongoing discussions in the past to conduct a survey about uses for retail space in the SUB, however this was never materialized.
“Regardless, the board of directors will soon be having discussions of conducting a formal request for proposal process for commercial spaces in the new SUB.”
Randhawa mentioned that Minimart may hold an advantage during the discussion regarding retail space in the SUB as “they currently have a space for convenience store services on campus.”
As the December 14 eviction nears, the future of Minimart hangs on the SFSS’s decision, leaving Wong unsure of how to plan in terms of the store’s inventory and his own future: “If they don’t give me [the space], I’ll retire then. If they give me [the space], I can still go along [running the Minimart].”
“I just keep doing [sic] day-by-day [. . .] I don’t know how to plan.”