Port Alberni boasts of one of the winningest convenience stores in B.C. Lottery Corporation history.
On Friday, March 22, 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 owns A-1 Convenience with his wife Surinder. “It’s their luck and we are just the provider. We’re really glad they won,” he added.
Al and Helga Fry were the first million-dollar winners at A-1 Convenience, in 1996, just three years after the Rais opened their store.
“It was a random ticket,” Helga recalls.
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 “so that was a big thing,” Helga said.
Rocky and Patti LaPlante purchased a Celebration ticket on Jan. 16, 1997, and became the next instant millionaires.
“It was the first one that came out with cars on it,” Rocky LaPlante recalled. He and his wife ended up giving a lot of their winnings away.
Otto Anker became part of the A-1 Convenience millionaire club in 1998.
Richard Zoet kept quiet about his lotto win for a few days, even as rumours about who from Port Alberni had the million-dollar ticket were swirling around the community. The guaranteed $1 million win on the June 7, 2017 Lotto 6/49 draw came at the conclusion of a difficult period in Zoet’s 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 one 6/49 ticket for the June 7 draw, he recalled. “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 bought new cars for himself and his mother, and he has made numerous donations to local charities.
Also at the A-1 Convenience celebration were Ian and Louise Thomas who won $5 million on Feb. 13. Their legal names are Harold and Madelaine, and BCLC announced their win using those names.
“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.”
The Thomases play the 6/49 lottery every Saturday and Wednesday. Louise usually walks to A-1 Convenience to buy their tickets.
Eventually the Thomases want to travel, but Louise is still working right now. They will soon have family in Mississauga, ON, and plan on making regular trips back and forth.
The convenience store received $2,000 for selling each big winner, according to BCLC territory manager Taylor Landry. The rules are different for other provinces, where sellers receive larger awards. The rules will be changing in B.C. in the near future, Landry said, although he couldn’t elaborate.
“To have this many winners that have won major prizes (in the area) is pretty rare. To all buy from one store is pretty rare,” Landry said.
Last year A-1 Convenience sold $379,000 in lottery tickets, Rai said. Everytime a big winner is announced he has seen a spike in sales. Even people attending the 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.
“They are very, very customer friendly,” Zoet agreed.
“We are never moving, ever,” Louise Thomas said.