One Stop through time

A history of the corner store at Alfred and Earl Streets

Brothers Steve
Image by: Corey Lablans
Brothers Steve

For over 100 years, Queen’s students have frequented a store at the corner of Alfred and Earl Streets. The building’s history traces back to 1909, when Ryder’s Pharmacy served people coming into Kingston by trolley car on Alfred Street.

Now the intersection houses Campus One Stop, a corner store that’s been in the Nikitopoulos family for 45 years. In 2003, brothers Steve, Jimmy and Paul bought the store — then called College Variety — from their dad and uncle.

Co-owner Steve Nikitopoulos said owning a convenience store in the Student Ghetto is a challenge.

“It’s been a struggle just to keep the doors open,” he said. “You just get into a lot of business and personal debt and hope you turn the corner one day.

“The student demographic changes completely every four years and you have to keep up with it.”

One of his fondest memories of the Student Ghetto is from the 2006 blackout. On a 30 C day in August, the brothers gave away all the store’s melting and perishable food to students in the area.

“There were lineups out the door for popsicles and ice cream,” Nikitopoulos said. “Crowds of people came to see what was going on.”

Engineering students came equipped with helmet lamps, using them to guide people through the dark store. Other students brought bottles of vodka.

“That sort of stuff doesn’t happen in the big chains,” Nikitopoulos said. “It’s a community thing.”

In 2008, then-Pittsburgh Penguin forward Mike Zigomanis came to visit the store. He brought some teammates to his favourite haunt when he was living in Kingston while playing with the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs.

“They had a little party and looked at the shop,” Nikitopoulos said. “It’s incredible how so many things have happened here over the years.”

Building a personal rapport with shop regulars is the most successful way to market the store, Nikitopoulos said.

“We joke, with complete appreciation, that you get tired from waving [at customers] all day long,” he said.

A friendly relationship with students has also helped the store avoid serious security issues.

“People are easily dissuaded when met with kindness,” Nikitopoulos said. “We get some alcohol-influenced behavior but usually it ends with an apology or a visit the next day to say sorry.”

It’s this kindness that has brought local fame to the men.

On tough days, middle-brother and co-owner Jimmy likes to re-read an essay one Commerce student wrote about him being a community leader a few years ago.

The store’s popularity among students is not lost on visiting guests, either.

In 2009, Dragon’s Den star Brett Wilson was drawn to the store for a snack and chat with the owners.

“He tweeted that he was here and within ten minutes 35 people showed up to check it out,” Nickitopoulos said. “Word of mouth spreads so quickly on this campus that we’ve never needed marketing.”

While students make up a great portion of One Stop’s business, they prefer lower-priced items like chips and pop, he said.

The brothers began a fair trade organic food company, Mola Mola, which sells at a higher price point. According to Nikitopoulos, the brand’s chocolate bars are a student favourite.

Campus Care Packages is another draw to the shop. Nikitopolous said that Queen’s alumni will order them after moving away.

“We try to have something for everyone,” he said. “When you break it down students are only here five and a half months out of the year.

“You could never operate a small business on five and a half months.”

Other variety stores in the Ghetto rely wholly on student dollars, causing them to cut hours and lose profit in the summer months.

Albert Street corner store Bedore’s takes a large hit when students leave in April.

“Everyone around here is a student store,” owner Joanne Kwan said. “We all suffer during that time.”

Freddie’s Grocery on University Avenue is no different.

Owner Penny Tsinaridis said her sales go down by at least half when students aren’t around to buy soft drinks and cigarettes.

While One Stop relies on full-time Kingston residents as much as they do student dollars, the owners said that it’s the students who bring the most excitement to their store.

“We’ve heard it all,” Nikitopoulos said. “Stories of heartbreak, house issues and stress from school.

“I feel like we know most of the gossip going on in this area just by being here.”

He said it’s not uncommon to loan his car to a student in need, help with housing repairs or hear post-breakup laments.

“For a lot of these students it’s the first time they’re living alone,” Nikitopoulos said. “Sometimes they need a little support.”

Nikitopoulos said the only foreseeable change to the Campus One Stop would be an expansion into the Earl Street parking lot.

“It’s a perfect storm here,” he said, adding that he can’t imagine selling out to a larger chain either.

“I don’t know what I’d do then,” Nikitopoulos said. “This business has become such a big part of who our family is.”


History, Kingston, Life, Town-gown

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