Maple Ridge council is trying a second time to find a way to regulate wine and liquor sales in grocery stores in response to new provincial liquor laws.
After rejecting a previous bylaw last fall that would have required every grocery store to seek council’s permission to sell wine, the second attempt follows Pitt Meadows’ example and requires a one-kilometre distance between a grocery store selling high-quality wines and existing liquor stores.
Liquor sales in grocery stores would also face the same restriction under the bylaw.
Maple Ridge council gave first reading to the bylaw last November. A public hearing Tuesday was scheduled to allow members of the public to comment before the bylaw goes to third reading later this month.
However, the situation became complicated in the interval between when council defeated the first bylaw and introduced the second bylaw on Nov. 24.
During the interim, a business licence for wine sales was issued to Save-On Foods in Valley Fair Mall, says a council report.
However, any bylaw change that council makes afterwards won’t affect that store’s wine sales.
Coun. Craig Speirs said that council chambers were crowded for the public hearing with people concerned about losing their jobs in the liquor industry if wine sales are allowed in grocery stores.
He said about 400 people work in that sector in Maple Ridge.
Yvan Charette, with the Haney Public House and the Haney Hotel Liquor Store, said he closed his store and pub for a few hours that evening to allow employees to get to the public hearing. Employees from other pubs also showed up.
Charette hopes that the bylaw gets passed.
“I totally support it. I’m hoping that the mayor and councillors do, as well.”
Charette, who also owns the Jolly Coachman in Pitt Meadows, said when that city was preparing its bylaw, Pitt Meadows councillors there were involved.
“They just didn’t want any job loss.”
But he questions if all of Maple Ridge council has studied the issue.
“Maple Ridge doesn’t need to lose more jobs,” he said. “We have enough social problems as it is.”
Charette said the bylaw process was streamlined in Pitt Meadows.
“What’s taking Maple Ridge almost seven months to do, took Pitt Meadows four weeks.”
However, the process to pass the one-kilometre bylaw in Pitt Meadows took almost four months.
A letter to Maple Ridge council from the Alliance of Beverage Licencees says that in areas where wine is sold in grocery stores, up 70 per cent of all wine sales take place in those stores.
“Small distributors are squeezed out of the market and local businesses are forced to close,” said the letter from Poma Dhaliwal, president of the alliance.
Speirs added that grocery stores should be alcohol-free.
“It should be a safe place for people who have issues with alcohol.”
But he expects Maple Ridge to pass the bylaw this time when it goes back to council this month.
Once passed, the bylaw would prevent wine and liquor sales in grocery stores in other shopping malls in east and west Maple Ridge that are close to existing liquor stores.
Speirs said the B.C. government allowed cities to make the change in response to new provincial liquor legislation.
“It re-affirms normal,” he said.
Council heard from employees in the industry who feared job losses and raised personal and societal health concerns from increased wine sales. One industry lawyer said selling only B.C. wines in grocery streets will be subject to international trade challenges, resulting in decisions that will allow all wine products from around the world as well as liquor on grocery store shelves.
However, liquor products are often sold in grocery stores in countries around the world.