Liquor retailers ask council to restrict wine sales in grocery stores

Consultant says wine on grocery shelves would hurt local businesses, lead to more underage drinking

Minors will find it easier to get their hands on booze, and public safety and health will be compromised if grocery stores are allowed to sell wine on their shelves in Abbotsford, council was told Monday by a consultant hired by the city’s private liquor sellers.

Citing such problems, and worried about the future of their businesses, Abbotsford’s liquor retailers have asked the city to enact rules that would essentially bar grocery stores from selling liquor.

Grocery stores have been allowed to stock B.C. wine on their shelves since 2015 as long as they obtain a liquor licence. Over the last two years, the companies that run Save-On-Foods and Real Canadian Superstore have been buying up licences and selling wine from a handful of stores. None of those locations – fewer than two dozen across B.C. – is in Abbotsford.

Now, liquor sellers in Abbotsford want the city to use its powers to remove the right of local grocery stores to sell alcohol.

Bert Hick, a consultant and former general manager of the province’s liquor control and licensing branch, presented the retailers’ case to council Monday, along with a petition bearing more than 400 names.

While the rules currently permit grocery stores to stock only B.C. wine on shelves available to the general public, Hick warned a NAFTA challenge will likely force the government to allow international vintages to also be sold. With craft beer and distilleries also hoping to get their products on the shelves of grocery stores, Hick said it’s unlikely that supermarket shoppers will be restricted to just local wine in the future.

Hick warned that liquor in grocery stores would have grave social effects. He said minors will be more exposed to booze, as will alcoholics who might be trying to kick their habit.

And in a letter to council, he said employees of liquor stores are better trained to deal with intoxicated individuals, criminal gang members, or minors, who receive “a much higher level of scrutiny than when they are in a grocery store.”

The Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce, in its own letter, warned that allowing grocery stores located near private operators to stock liquor “will have a devastating impact on existing businesses within a local area.”

Hick asked council to immediately either ban grocery stores from retailing alcohol or pass a bylaw that would require grocery stores to be at least one kilometre from existing liquor sellers.

The latter option is in line with rules that require new liquor retailers to be that distance from existing locations, and was also recommended by the chamber.

Because all Abbotsford’s major grocery stores are located within one kilometre from a liquor store, it would have the effect of barring any such stores from stocking wine or other goods at the current time. They could buy the licence of a nearby liquor store and use it to sell wine, provided there are no other operations.

Some other communities have signed onto the one-kilometre rule, including Kamloops and Maple Ridge. Kamloops council, though, passed a one-kilometre rule only to later permit a grocery store to violate the rule after outcry from the public.

Abbotsford council said Monday they would need more feedback, and noted that any change to its zoning bylaw – as requested – would need to first go through a public hearing.

Council requested a staff report with more information, including the location of current liquor retailers and grocers, and the effects of grocery stores selling wine in other communities.

Rules about selling liquor may also be looked at as part of the city’s review of its zoning bylaw, which is currently underway. The city could opt to change which zones liquor can be sold in.

Coun. Les Barkman said, for him, having grocery stores selling liquor is less of a concern than those stores located next to schools or playgrounds.


@ty_olsen
tolsen@abbynews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.