Some concern about new liquor laws in B.C.

Some rural agency stores are concerned the Province's planned move to allow alcohol sales in grocery stores will force them to close their doors.

"Sixty-five per cent of my business is liquor out of my total sales, and if that component is taken away from me and given to the grocery stores in town, I'm out of business," says Imi Haji, who owns Royston Mini-Mart and is a director with B.C.'s Rural Agency Store Advisory Society. "I only survive because of that component."

Attorney General Suzanne Anton announced Friday the Province will accept the 73 recommendations listed in MLA John Yap's Liquor Policy Review final report. One of those recommendations is that the Province should develop and implement a retail model for liquor sales inside grocery stores, which according to the report, would meet consumer demands for convenience.

Rural agency stores are often a rural area's one-stop-shop for groceries, hardware supplies, postal needs and liquor, among other things. Yap's report notes the province's 221 rural agency stores already offer consumer convenience.

"As that is the case, I would not anticipate any new grocery model to impact these retailers," writes Yap in his report. "In fact, I would suggest that those communities with rural agency stores should be able to maintain their current model once a new grocery model is introduced in other communities."

But, Haji worries the grocery retail model, which has yet to be developed, could squeeze rural agency stores out of liquor sales if it does not ensure fair pricing and fair purchasing across the board.

Currently, rural agency stores receive a 12-per-cent discount rate from the Liquor Distribution Branch or BC Liquor Stores, licensee retail stores receive a 16-per-cent discount and independent wine stores receive a 30-per-cent discount.

Yap points this out in his report, along with other issues he says he will not weigh in on because they fall outside of his terms of reference, "would immediately lead to implications for government revenue and potential implications, particularly around the grocery model(s) that still need to be developed."

There are 670 liquor retail licence holders in B.C., and the report recommends keeping that number the same and allowing existing licence holders to relocate to grocery stores, transfer or sell their licences.

Haji worries that grocery stores buying licences would receive the same discount existing licence holders receive, meaning they would receive a four-per-cent greater discount than rural agency stores. He also worries how much flexibility they will have in pricing with the new retail model.

"Grocery stores like Walmart or Costco or Superstore, they're huge corporations," he says. "They will sell their milk cheaper than what they buy it for to draw you in because milk is not the only thing to sell."

Denman Island General Store owner Daryl McLoughlin shares Haji's concerns, as he has a "very, very real" concern about closing if his liquor sales drop. It's a "huge" portion of his business, he adds.

"What we want is fair pricing and fair access," says McLoughlin, acknowledging some people would still buy liquor at his store due to convenience, even if there were a bigger gap in pricing between him and other places.

If "you need a bottle of wine, you're not going to go all the way into Superstore to buy a bottle of wine," he says. "But if you're in town doing a shop and you're able to buy a bottle of wine for $12, and because of the way the setup is we have to charge $17 for it, it's a no-brainer where you're going to buy most of your booze."


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