New liquor laws stir confusion

Local operators unsure about changes as provincial government set to allow grocery stores to sell alcohol.

Tim Fitzgerald/THE NEWS. Foxs Reach Specialty Liquor Store employee Christine Nguyen keeps the shelves stocked as government changes to who can sell means their neighbour

The new B.C. liquor laws that kick in April 1 will have little immediate effect in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, leading one local businessman to ask what’s the point of it all, and wondering if more drastic changes are to follow.

Starting April Fool’s Day, liquor or wine can be sold in large grocery stores.

As well, all liquor stores, including government liquor stores, will pay the same wholesale price from the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch, instead of the range of discounts in place now.

“Why did they make the rule changes, you have to ask yourself,” said Yvan Charette, a partner in the company that runs the Haney Liquor Store and The Jolly Coachman Pub.

He says the new rules were made “without a knowledge of the industry,” adding it’s difficult to understand what the effect of the new rules will be.

“The industry should have a voice,” he said. “My opinion is that the Liberals are making these changes as a first step.”

Eventually, large grocery retailers will take over, driving out the small liquor store owners.

“For the most part, the changes that they’re making affect small businesses.”

Charette also disagreed with the new rule that allows liquor licences to be moved anywhere in the province. That will leave some smaller communities without a liquor store as that licence is moved to a larger centre.

“I think there should be boundaries, not just a free-for-all. That’s what leads big business to encroaching on the small guys.”

The owner of Fox’s Reach Specialty Liquor Store, Paul Flett, is concerned about the new rules, but says the one requiring liquor stores to be at least a kilometre from each other will ensure stability.

“I don’t see anybody coming into Maple Ridge.

“I think it’s going to be the status quo.”

His store in Westgate Centre is across from Save-On Foods, meaning the latter would be precluded from opening an in-store liquor operation, because of the minimum kilometre distance between liquor stores.

That condition precludes most moves because many liquor stores share the same parking lots as grocery stores.

“From what I understand, it has to be one kilometre away from government or private liquor store. So I don’t know how much effect it’s going to have.”

However, there’s no minimum distance required between a wine store and liquor stores – so grocery store wine sales could happen with a liquor spirits nearby.

Another condition is that grocery stores must be at least 10,000 sq. feet in area in order to qualify to add a liquor outlet. And that liquor outlet must be physically separated from the rest of the store, with its own tellers.

“So I don’t know what’s going to happen, I’m concerned for sure, for my business.”

“I see it as political,” and he wonders if the public really cares.

Black Sheep Pub manager Shelley McKellar doesn’t anticipate much change in pricing as the government moves to one wholesale price.

“As far as I know, it’s not really going to have a big impact on us. I don’t think the prices are going to change.”

A new wholesale price structure for the thousands of products sold in liquor stores will be the same for all retailers, set to retain the $1 billion in revenues the province takes in annually from liquor sales.

Beer lovers, however, get a break under the April 1 changes. After that date, B.C. Liquor Stores will be able to sell cold beer and stay open on Sundays.

In order to handle fairly any applications to relocate stores, the branch is conducting a lottery in March. Businesses have until March 27 to put in an application that will be given numbers and processing priority will be determined by the number drawn in the lottery.

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