Licence application bottled up

Steve Arstad

Black Press

The economy has been tough on business throughout the South Okanagan — and for one small business operator in Kaleden, things aren’t being made any easier by the province.

Khushkismet Grewal and his wife Sukhuinder bought the Lakeview General Store in Kaleden (formerly the Kaleden General Store) in October 2010, much to the relief of the 1,300 residents of the small community.

The store had previously gone into foreclosure, losing its licence to sell alcohol as a result.

The Grewals were assured at the time of purchase by the seller that they would acquire their licence “within a week or two.”

A petition, initiated by the seller, that gathered more than 400 signatures from the small community in favour of having the general store’s licence to sell alcohol reinstated, had been sent to the province, and local MLA John Slater had been made aware of the need for a licence in order for the business to continue successfully.

Close to four months later, the Grewals are finding themselves increasingly frustrated by a lack of commitment on the part of the province to reinstate the licence.

“Every day it’s a new story,” Khushkismet said of his frequent communications with Slater. “He’s on holidays, or some other excuse. It seems like every customer I have is asking me when I am going to get the licence. I have older customers — and there are many in Kaleden — who don’t want to drive or are not able to, who would like to be able to get wine, liquor or beer here. This is a service the village can really use.”

Slater said he has been working with the owners and hoped to have the matter resolved before Christmas.

“This is a brutal one. In 2004, changes to the liquor act stipulated no new licences within 10 kilometres of existing ones ... the thing about Kaleden is, here is a community of 1,300 people that have to drive to Okanagan Falls or Penticton for alcohol. It’s ludicrous.”

Slater said his office had made the pitch to reissue Kaleden’s licence, but agency staff tend to interpret to the letter of the law.

“It won’t take a big amendment to the law, perhaps a grandfather clause can work. We’re not giving up.”

Grewal noted that his store is completely equipped to sell alcohol — all his coolers and shelves are in place, waiting for the opportunity to be stocked. Until that happens, a portion of his store sits underutilized, costing him customers — and cash.

He noted that he continues to have customers come in offering to sign the petition or call the local MLA on his behalf. Grewal himself continues to be in constant contact with Slater, as well as Rich Coleman, the minister responsible for liquor licensing.

“Every village in the Okanagan and Similkameen has a licensed outlet,” Grewal observed. “Okanagan Falls has three outlets alone (two agency outlets and a liquor outlet attached to the Okanagan Falls Hotel). Why shouldn’t Kaleden?”

He pointed out that with the new, stricter drinking driving laws in effect, it doesn’t make sense for the province to force Kaledenites to drive to a liquor store when there was already a historical precedent for a licensed outlet in the village.

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