Convenience Store Owner Joe Thomeh Retires After 46 Years | Shop | Halifax, Nova Scotia

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In 1976, Joe Thomeh opened Thomeh’s Market Kwik-Way convenience store at the corner of Cornwallis and Maynard Streets in North Halifax. The two-story building with red brick at the bottom and matching red shingles at the top is now dwarfed by nearby skyscrapers and apartment buildings. For as long as anyone can remember, his cardboard sign reads “MILKHOMO,” and an old-fashioned shopkeeper’s bell sits above the door, tinkling whenever a neighbor comes in for a lighter, a coffee creamer or just to say hello.

For more than four decades, Youssef Thomeh, known to everyone simply as Joe, ran the store with his wife Kamlie (Kim). Their four children, Najah, Nassim, Rima and Samira, grew up there, playing behind the counter and stocking the shelves after school.

But over time, Thomeh’s children grew into adults and had families of their own. Kim passed away in 2018. Then the pandemic hit. Earlier this year, Thomeh finally decided it was time to pass the torch. “I just want to relax,” he said.

It would have been easy to sell the building to a developer and let someone open a coffee or pizza chain in place of the beloved local convenience store. But Thomeh didn’t want that.

“I was looking for a family, like I have,” he says. Thomeh’s son, Nassim, will continue to run the building himself, but the business inside has been sold to a young couple: Danny and Clara Vo.

The Vos immigrated to Canada from Vietnam about 15 months ago. Although they came from a different continent than the Thomehs, who immigrated from Lebanon in the 1970s, the two families quickly learned that they had a lot in common.

“Forty years ago, his wife and children were like us right now,” says Danny Vo. “So I think in 40 more years I’ll be like him.”

A former teacher, Vo says he’s learning all he can from Thomeh before officially retiring. This includes building relationships with vendors as well as neighbors who come into the store. When a customer brings her bottle of soy sauce to the counter, Vo looks at Thomeh, who watches over his shoulder: “How much?” Thomeh responds quickly and confidently, “$3.49.”

“He’s very supportive, very friendly with us,” Vo says.

At the back of the store, Clara is preparing a wok stir-fry. For now, it’s just lunch for her and Danny. But once the food permit arrives, they plan to sell Vietnamese and Thai dishes like pho, spring rolls and Thai curries. “And, my dad right now,” Danny laughs and waves to Thomeh, “he’s teaching me how to make burgers.”

There will be other changes in the shop. Vo says he wants to stock Asian teas in the future. And a new group of children will grow up behind the counter. But the Vos hope to continue Thomeh’s legacy of being not just store clerks, but part of the community.

“I’m very happy to meet interesting and nice people here. Coming to Canada, everything for me, for my family, is very new,” says Danny. “Some people come here, and we think we will have a good relationship with them forever. They are so friendly with us.

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