Liquor changes more likely to impact large cities than rural communities

Within Trail, the only grocery store that could potentially qualify for a liquor store would be No Frills at Waneta Plaza.

A lot of people think there’s big money involved in selling spirits, says a local liquor store owner. But this area is already saturated with licenced outlets, so changing the provincial rules probably won’t have much local impact.

Roy Benedict, owner of an Annable private liquor store, was referring to the BC government’s “lottery” for private liquor stores that may want to move their operations to grocery stores.

All applicants asking for a supermarket locale have until March 27 to be placed in the lottery, before licensees are drawn at random.  But there’s one caveat that’s particularly relevant in Trail and smaller communities like Rossland or Fruitvale. The new grocery store location cannot be within one kilometre of an existing liquor outlet.

Another important aspect that narrows the scope, is the grocery store must be over 10,000-square feet and 75 per cent of sales must be food-related.

“Down the coast where you have millions of people around this could make a difference,” said Benedict. “But not so much around here because we are a long way from that and not a driving force by anyone’s imagination. And if they think they are, other than zinc or lead, then they are fooling themselves,” he chuckled.

Within Trail, the only grocery store that could potentially qualify for a liquor store would be No Frills at Waneta Plaza.

While there are no immediate plans at that site, in an email reply, Loblaws public relations confirmed the company is interested in the opportunity to enhance the shopping experience with the addition of liquor retailing within B.C. stores.

Loblaws says liquor retail within its stores could increase convenience and is a natural tie with many of the stores’ product, and could help round out its goal to “put great meals at great value on the tables of Canadians.”

No new liquor licences are being handed out, so with the existing relocation parameters, impact to other local businesses will probably be minimal for now.

There is another change coming down the pike, however, that could affect the spirit retailers.

Wine on grocery shelves is next on the province’s list of growing B.C.’s viticulture industry. New licences will be issued allowing 100 per cent B.C. produced wines to be sold in food markets.

And there’s no caveat attached, meaning no one-kilometre rule.

But even this model could be a challenge in our area, says Benedict.

“Maybe a store that is already staffed could have a wine store within,” he noted. “But if anyone is thinking they are going to buy a (wine) licence and pay staff to look after that specific area, there really isn’t enough business here to pay for that staff and other costs.

“That’s why I work in here all the time,” said Benedict, referring to his liquor outlet that’s attached to Benedict’s Steakhouse and Tunnel Pub. “Because there just isn’t enough volume to warrant extra staff.”

Ben de Jager, owner of Columbia Gardens Vineyard & Winery sees a positive, being that local wines could garner a larger audience through food markets. But he also voiced concern that the province’s larger wineries could have an edge over the rural vintners.

“Grocery store owners will probably only stock four or five varieties, or suppliers,” he said. “Meaning, that could shut out the smaller guys. But I still say this change will opens doors and for those of us in B.C., we have an opportunity in our hands.”