Proposed liquor changes draw mixed reviews in Greater Trail area

Introducing liquor sales into grocery stores would be a boon to Trail groceries, but a drawback to liquor stores.

While some local grocers say that proposed changes to the province’s liquor laws that would allow liquor sales in grocery outlets would be a positive change, owners of privately owned liquor stores aren’t so happy about the idea.

MLA and Parliamentary Secretary, John Yap,  recently presented the government with the results of his review of B.C.’s liquor laws, including a number of recommendations that have mostly been kept under wraps pending parliamentary review.

The one issue that reportedly had the most support, allowing liquor sales in grocery stores similar to other provinces across the country and in the U.S., was apparently popular enough to warrant early release to the media.

James Ferraro of Ferraro Foods says that the idea sounds like a “win-win” situation.

“They haven’t passed the law yet but if they do we’re definitely going for it,” he said. “I think our customers are expecting it. We’d probably be aiming for a speciality market, we won’t be going for $100 bottles of wine or anything but a good $17 or $18 wine that would compliment our food offerings.”

However, what some see as a boon sounds like doom to others.

“It’ll shut us down,” said Roy Benedict, owner of the Benedict’s Steakhouse and Tunnel Pub and private liquor store in Annable. “It’s just big business, we don’t have any choice in the matter. It doesn’t matter what we say or how many times we say it, they’re just going to go ahead anyway. We just have to take the punches and roll with them.”

Yap has been busy holding a series of stakeholder meetings across the province with interest groups ranging from the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police to the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, to MADD Canada and beyond, some 65 meetings in all, as part of the Liberal government’s attempt to modernize the province’s liquor laws.

“During the B.C. Liquor Policy Review, I heard loud and clear that today’s retail model has not kept pace with consumer expectations,” said Yap in a recent press release.

“British Columbians lead busy lives and my final report makes several recommendations that will bring greater convenience to citizens, including moving to a model that will allow shoppers to pick up a bottle of wine or six-pack with their groceries.”

As well as recommending grocery store liquor sales, Yap also offered supporting recommendations that  B.C. should maintain the current cap on the total number of retail outlets in the province, that the new law requires that liquor be kept separate from grocery products, and that the province should adopt a gradual, phased-in approach to the new retail model.

Other steps by the government since 2012 has seen the allowance of liquor in theatres, allowing distillers and brewers to provide on-site lounges and special event areas, and allowing B.C. Residents to import wine for personal consumption from other provinces in Canada.

Katrine Conroy, MLA for Kootenay West, finds the drive for grocery store liquor sales curious.

“Whenever I talked to people I’ve rarely heard anyone say they wanted to buy liquor in grocery stores,” she said. “They wanted to go out for lunch or dinner at a local pub and have their whole family go with them. I’m really curious, I’d like to see the numbers, where this is coming from, who is actually driving this.”

Among other questions around the process, Conroy’s concerns are more focussed on the existing store owners and employees.

“I wonder about the people who have bought into beer and wine stores and have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into their businesses and how it will affect them,” she said. “In rural B.C. we have to support the small businesses we have and the government run liquor stores that actually pay a family-supporting wage, where the employees make enough to pay the taxes that pay for our schools and hospitals. I don’t see this idea working that well.”