Port Alberni boasts of one of the winningest convenience stores in B.C. Lottery Corporation history.
Last week, the A-1 Convenience on Redford Street celebrated its five, million-dollar and multi-million-dollar winners as part of its 26-year anniversary.
“It’s the luck of the draw,” said Jodi Rai, who opened the store in 1993 with his wife, Surinder. “It’s their luck and we are just the provider. We’re really glad they won.”
Al and Helga Fry were the first million-dollar winners at A-1 Convenience, in 1996.
“It was a random ticket,” Helga recalled.
Al bought the ticket. He remembers he was watching a football game on TV when he checked the numbers and realized they won $1 million. He put the ticket on their china cabinet, told Helga to take a look at it “then I finished watching the football game,” he said. “For two weeks, the ticket sat there.”
When the couple finally went to Victoria to claim their prize, they stayed in a hotel that was as close to the lottery ticket office as they could get. It wasn’t an expensive hotel, Helga said, and no one suspected they were big winners.
“We sat in the hotel having breakfast with our picture on the front page [of a newspaper] and no one sitting around us knew who we were.”
They didn’t do anything splashy with their money, but they helped their children.
Next was Rocky and Patti LaPlante, who bought a Celebration ticket on Jan. 16, 1997, and became the next instant millionaires. They wife ended up giving a lot of their winnings away.
In 1998, Otto Anker joined the A-1 Convenience millionaire club.
The fourth million-dollar win from the same convenience store came nearly a decade later.
Richard Zoet kept quiet about his win for a few days. It had come at the conclusion of a difficult period in his life: He had come out of bankruptcy a week earlier following a jail sentence and repayment to ICBC.
A regular lotto player in the past, Zoet bought a Lotto 6/49 ticket for the June 7, 2017 draw. “When it showed online that the winner was from Port Alberni, I said that was my ticket. Then I checked it and it was a winning ticket. I just sat on it.”
Since then, he has bought new cars for himself and his mother, and made numerous donations to charities.
The latest new millionaires are Ian and Louise Thomas, who snagged $5 million on Feb. 13.
“I bought the ticket, and I checked it,” Louise said. “We were up at the Smoke Stack, it’s friends of ours that own it. We went up to say hi. I hadn’t checked my ticket yet… she put the ticket in the machine and it seized up. She said ‘What have you done to my machine?’”
“We went into shock,” Ian said. “The girls behind the counter were screaming.”
Eventually, the Thomases want to travel, but Louise is still working right now. They will soon have family in Mississauga, Ont., and plan on making regular trips there.
“To have this many winners that have won major prizes … to all buy from one store, is pretty rare,” said BCLC territory manager Taylor Landry.
Everytime a big winner is announced at the store, Rai said he sees a spike in sales. Even people attending the anniversary celebration on Friday said they had bought tickets that day.
Most of the winners claim A-1 Convenience as their neighbourhood corner store, and all of them decided to stay in the neighbourhood despite their big wins. They all still buy lottery tickets too.