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A dépanneur (from the French verb dépanner, meaning "to help out of difficulty" or "to troubleshoot"; often shortened to "dep") is a Canadian French term designing some convenience stores and used mainly in the province of Quebec (although, some Franco-Ontarians and Acadians in the provinces of Ontario and New Brunswick may sometimes also refer to this term). The North-American analog word is "corner shop", which predominates in use in Ontario and Western Canada, as well as "mini-mart" in the US.
The origins of the word is subject to dispute. Some state that the name comes from a convenience store owner located in Montreal who first called his shop "Le Dépanneur" in 1927, as it was offering late business hours and multiple different services at once. According to another version, the word is rather a direct transformation of French in its litteral term (In France, a dépanneur is a repairer of breakdowns, often in cars but also of electrical and other equipment), therefore was first applied to garages and car service stations/hardware that also offered basic grocery goods. Although the most plausible explanation is probably the combination of both.
Over the years, dépanneur became a widely spread term to the English-speaking communities and part of Quebec English language and culture. The English-language author and Montreal novelist Mordecai Richler used to refer in jest to the London grocer Harrods as "my local dépanneur" during his years in the United Kingdom.
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, Boni-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.
Deps survive despite the onslaught of large grocery chains from inside and outside the province.
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