The Couche-Tard on the corner of Beaubien and St. Denis wasn't anything special - it wasn't a Mom 'n' Pop store, it didn't carry spruce beer or some unusual Doritos flavour, they didn't give you free popcorn or ask about your day. It was a Couche-Tard, so what it was good at was being open, tard.
The thing about this Couche-Tard, though, was that the staff were amazing. The goth girls throwing teenage shade, the six-foot-tall person with the softest voice and the gentlest manner bagging our beers and dill chips, the young hair-gel dudes who would roll their eyes when we showed up in wigs and body-paint five minutes past beer o'clock, begging for leniency. We liked them because they were sassy, because they weren't pretending to be happy customer service representatives. If they were in a genuinely good mood, you'd get a smile and a joke. If not, don't even think about asking for free matches.
There's a kind of fraternal feeling that grows among people who are up in the small hours of the night. It's easy to feel that there's something wrong about your life, a vast spiritual gulf separating you from the daywalkers. But then you remember the Couche-Tard employees are right there on the corner, ready to sell you salted peanuts and cigarettes and probably judge you, the blasé guardians of the night. Sometimes I'd go there and spend a dollar on a dehydrated soup packet, just to have someone recognize me.
Then the employees tried to unionize, and in the time it takes to fill a Sloche cup the store was shut down. "Closed due to lack of profitability" or something like that. For a few weeks a security guard sat in his car out back, discouraging people from spraypainting anti-capitalist slogans on the boarded-up windows. He almost succeeded.
Later the employees held a barbecue outside the shut-down store, handing out hot dogs and information on the campaign to unionize the chain's employees. The staff were out of their uniforms, fighting for their livelihoods - seeing them again made me intensely emotional. I took a flyer, declined a hot dog.
It's been more than two years since it was shut down, and it's still empty. Now we take our late-night emergencies to the 24-hour dep further down the street. One of the goth girls works at the corner grocery story, where her purple nails grip broccoli and frozen pizzas. The building's facade has become something of a repository for neighbourhood rage and desire - during last summer's Printemps Erable it was covered in red squares and anti-Charest posters, the backdrop to the nightly casserole. Now it's covered in more formal-looking street art - Uma Thurman with a sword says Kill Bill 10th, and purple paint spells out Théâtre en Création. A friend visiting from New York recently asked me "Is that place an underground theatre or something?" "No," I said. "Well, kind of."
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by Anna Leventhal | Apr 30th 1:36 pm
The Couche-Tard on St-Denis and Beaubien was my late-night refuge, the last bastion of the salt-craving insomniac. But then the employees tried to form a union and the store was deemed