The prospect of British Columbians picking up a half-sack of beer while shopping for meat and bread has private liquor store operators nervous.
MLA John Yap, who is reviewing the province’s liquor laws, is recommending the government allow liquor sales in grocery stores.
“We have a huge concern about this,” said Toby Dansereau, with the Eastside Liquor Co.
“Our liquor licenses have value and we have invested a lot into these licenses. What does this mean for that?”
While some polls have suggested public support for increasing access to liquor sales, Dansereau isn’t convinced there is a lack of access.
“In Vernon, there are several liquor stores within a kilometre of each other, it’s widely accessible,” she said.
At the Longhorn Pub, there is a concern that grocery stores will water down the revenue stream for private liquor stores.
“There is only so much money to spend on alcohol,” said Eric Juzwisyn, general manager.
“Ninety per cent of the grocery stores are within 100 yards of a liquor store.”
Juzwisyn says expansion plans at the Longhorn liquor store, which has seven staff, could be on hold because of industry uncertainty.
He also points out that provincial taxpayers benefit from the current system of liquor sales.
“Private liquor stores account for 60 per cent of the tax going into the government. All of this income goes into our health care system, education and roads.”
Juzwisyn is also concerned that expanded access to alcohol could negatively impact individuals who have addiction issues.
“If someone has a liquor abuse problem, they have the choice to go into a liquor store. But if they are in the grocery store and buying milk and eggs and there’s beer there, some people will be tempted,” he said.
In making his recommendation, Yap says grocery store sales of alcohol would meet consumer demand for greater access.
“During the B.C. liquor policy review, I heard loud and clear that today’s retail model has not kept pace with consumer expectations,” he said.
Yap is recommending a phased-in approach to his model so government and private liquor stores can adjust.
He is also calling for the current cap on the total number of retail outlets to remain, meaning a grocery store would have to buy a liquor license from an existing business.
Yap also recommends that liquor be separated from grocery products.
“By doing this, and by keeping liquor separate from grocery products, we can increase convenience without any increased risk to the health or public safety of British Columbians,” he said.