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Canadian history and context
In Quebec, dépanneurs ('deps') used to be the only non-state stores in the province to sell beer and other alcoholic beverages, a situation which lasted until the 1990s. Supermarkets were forbidden to sell alcohol other than beer, to eliminate competition with the state monopoly Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ). A small selection of cheap wines available at the corner shop were, and in some cases still are, sarcastically referred to as "Cuvée dépanneur," or "Château Dépanneur." A change in licensing laws (as well as an overhaul of the SAQ) introduced an expanded selection of wines to both depanneurs and grocery stores, although the SAQ retains control over the majority of quality wines, spirits and hard liquor. In 2007, a limited number of vodkas became available in grocery stores, but not dépanneurs.
In contrast, in most other Canadian provinces, convenience stores are not permitted to sell alcoholic beverages at all, and in some cases the sales of beer, wines and spirits are divided between different specialty provincial chains, such as The Beer Store (Brewers Retail) and the LCBO in Ontario.
Canadian chains vs independent stores
In Montreal many small family-owned deps and smaller chains were bought in the 1990s by Couche-Tard Inc. (French for "night-owl"). It gained a virtual monopoly after it bought the Provi-Soir brand, a franchise with a winking owl as part of its logo (now part of the Couche-Tard logo); Provi-Soir had previously purchased the competing Perrette chain in the late 1980s. Today, the Mac's Convenience, Provi-Soir, 7 Jours and American Circle K chains are all owned by the Couche-Tard convenience store empire.
Family-run depanneurs now tend to cater to their neighborhoods. In several Montreal districts, smaller deps serve immigrant populations, offering specialty foods and discount long-distance telephone cards alongside the usual convenience-store fare. Many offer faxing, photocopying, Canada Post services, Western Union money transfers and occasionally Internet access. Most offer free local delivery of groceries; many use deliverymen who ride three-wheeled cycles with an attached cart, similar to the Dutch Bakfiets freight bicycle.
Arguing most convenience stores become cluttered to the point where their windows become a wall of advertising placards and neon, the Couche-Tard company introduced a new concept called "Store 2000." Several deps with wider layouts, brighter lighting, modern décor and often cafés and Subway sandwich franchises were launched to success, and the results were integrated into upgrades for the regular stores.
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