The province suggests it will have legislation in place allowing liquor sales in grocery stores next year, but local retailers say it will probably be longer than that before shoppers are able to purchase booze along with their groceries.
Colin Powell, owner of the Penticton and Summerland Marketplace IGAs, isn’t sure how it is all going to work out.
“I guess at the end of the day it might be more convenient for our customers to come in and buy liquor from us. But there is going to be a lot of red tape, a lot of logistics,” said Powell. “For some of my customers it might be a good convenience factor, but I think the perception is people are comparing this whole setup with the U.S.”
First, there would be the question of obtaining a licence. According to the announcement last week, the province is planning to continue its moratorium on issuing new liquor store licences. And like most grocery stores, both of his locations already have a liquor store nearby, so the one-kilometre exclusion zone would also prevent him from opening one of the “store within a store” operations the province is supporting under the proposed legislation.
Powell’s neighbour in Summerland, Cameron Bond, who owns the Local Liquor Store in the same mall as Powell’s IGA, said there are very few places where a grocery store would be able to bring in alcohol, even if they could purchase a license.
“If you look at most cities, there is already a store that is almost in proximity to the grocery store,” said Bond. “It’s kind of a moot question, because they really haven’t thought this through and it’s not going to change the dynamic.”
Bond said that even if a grocery store does open a liquor section, it is not likely going to be what people expected when they answered Yap’s question whether they would like to be able to buy beer and wine in a grocery store.
“It was an ill-conceived question that went out to the public. He didn’t ask the second question, would you like that because you think you are going to be paying $3 a bottle like in California or Washington?” said Bond. “That is not going to happen. The price is not going to change, nothing is going to change other than the fact you are pushing one grocery cart.”
Powell also pointed out that space would be a major factor for the smaller retailers.
“With the footprint out our businesses, they are all between 10 to 15 thousand square-foot stores, I think it is going to be a real challenge for the IGA banner to really make this work,” said Powell. For larger retailers, he said, with up to 80,000 square feet, putting in three aisles worth of liquor products would be easier.
The other part of the announcement, that more VQA wine store licences will be issued, could cause problems, according to Bond.
“They haven’t said how this new licence will work with the new VQA licences, where they are trying to create a B.C. winery section or a craft beer section. That doesn’t have to involve the liquor store aspect,” he said. “They haven’t come up with a ruling on that. That could upset a lot of people that are existing licence holders.
“I think what they are trying to do is a double whammy to see how store operators react, whether we throw our licences up on the auction block and try to see how that shakes out first before they roll in the VQA.”