Owner John VassIlaki of Last Call Liquor Mart pours some ice in the cold beer cooler bins at his Green Avenue West business Thursday. He and some other private liquor store venders do not want to see changes to provincial laws which would allow the sale of alcohol products at businesses like grocery stores.

Owner John VassIlaki of Last Call Liquor Mart pours some ice in the cold beer cooler bins at his Green Avenue West business Thursday. He and some other private liquor store venders do not want to see changes to provincial laws which would allow the sale of alcohol products at businesses like grocery stores.

Penticton liquor vendors voice concerns

Some private liquor retailers in Penticton are calling on the B.C. government to stay out of the cold-beer business.

Some private liquor retailers in Penticton are calling on the B.C. government to stay out of the cold-beer business.

Owners of three stores outlined their concerns in letters submitted to the government and posted on a dedicated website during a months-long public consultation on a possible overhaul of liquor laws. Andy Virk, president of the Barley Mill pub and liquor store, said he met with colleagues from the Government Street Liquor Store and Fairview Liquor Store to develop a united front.

At the top of their list of concerns is the possible expansion of a pilot program that has seen coolers installed in a handful of B.C. government liquor stores. Selling cold beer at an additional cost is one of the few advantages held by private retailers, he explained, so losing it could be catastrophic for his business.

“Any competition they create against our licences puts lots of things in jeopardy. At my place, I’ve got 38 employees here, and the liquor store is the one that supports the pub side too, the primary licence. And if I don’t have a liquor licence, I won’t be doing business,” said Virk.

He and the other Penticton owners also asked the government to consider selling off its liquor stores and distribution system, and allowing private liquor stores to sell directly to other businesses like hotels and restaurants.

The letters were submitted well before John Yap, the minister in charge of the review, mused this week about the support he’d received for allowing booze to be sold in grocery stores and convenience stores. Virk won’t support such a change, he feels it raises too many safety concerns and could limit competition.

“I guess the bigger corporations are going to get bigger and the smaller guys are going to get squeezed out. That’s what it’s going to be,” he said.

Local service clubs also submitted letters to the government.The Elks Lodge noted that in addition to an $1,100 annual renewal fee for its liquor licence, it also pays an additional $220 to update its lists of directors and officers, which change annually. The club asked that non-profits be allowed to pay a one-time fee.

Meanwhile, the Fraternal Order of Eagles requested that children be allowed in its establishment until after the dinner hour.

The owner of a downtown Penticton pool hall also submitted a letter in which he argued it’s not right that kids who visit to participate in a youth league are not allowed into the larger licensed area of the facility.

“As my venue is activity-based, liquor consumption is not a primary focus,” wrote Tim Scott of Cue’s Game Room.

“What youth experience is an environment where those adults who do consume liquor do so in a responsible manner.

“It is actually the mix in ages which promotes the ‘family’ welcoming atmosphere that prevails and attracts all ages, making everyone feel comfortable.”

The government also received submissions from groups representing the wine industry, such as the B.C. Estate Winery Association, which met with Yap earlier this week in Penticton.

That group requested red tape be cleared up at wineries and their restaurants, and that the provincial liquor tax be dropped to seven per cent from 10.

It also asked for a special section in government liquor stores to showcase high-end VQA wines that cost over $25 a bottle, which would “help position our wines on the world stage of premium wines.”

Public consultation on the liquor law review closed Thursday. Yap’s final report and recommendations are due by Nov. 25.