Owner calls foul on liquor plans

The Hideaway Liquor Store owner is wondering why the province doesn’t have to live up to its own regulations.

Market change: Hideaway Liquor Store owner Gord Erickson is concerned about an expansion of the government liquor store into sales of cold beverages.

Market change: Hideaway Liquor Store owner Gord Erickson is concerned about an expansion of the government liquor store into sales of cold beverages.

The Hideaway Liquor Store owner is wondering why the province doesn’t have to live up to its own regulations.

Gord Erickson is protesting the move by the provincial liquor store from current quarters in the Shuswap Mall to a much more visible site on the Trans-Canada Highway at Centenoka Park Mall and the addition of cold beer and wine sales to its operations.

According to provincial legislation, private liquor store owners may not locate within one kilometre of another.

The province says the relocation of Salmon Arm’s government liquor store is based on the opportunity to best suit the needs of its customers and meet their business objectives.

While it might benefit provincial liquor store customers, Erickson says it can have a severe impact on private operators.

Erickson expressed his concern in a Feb. 20 letter to then MLA George Abbott and Minister of Energy and Mines Rich Coleman, who also has responsibility for the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch.

The BC Liquor Distribution response dated March 19, advised Erickson that the Salmon Arm Liquor Store is relocating in response to a changing business environment and, as part of a chain that is a primary contributor to government revenue, it must be operated under best management decisions including renewal of facilities.

The new provincial liquor location cuts the distance between it and the Hideaway Liquor Store from 1,1019 metres to 521 metres.

“The government has rules that they don’t have to abide by and they can basically put somebody out of business,” Erickson says.

But an Aug. 26 email statement from the Liquor Distribution Branch takes issue with Erickson’s contention.

“The one-kilometre rule is a Liquor Control and Licensing Branch regulation that was enacted in response to requests from the industry association that represents many licensee retail stores, the Alliance of Beverage Licensees of BC (ABLE), however, there was no request to place it on BC Liquor Stores,” reads the statement. “It applies specifically to licensee retail stores (private liquor stores) and does not apply to BC Liquor Stores or private liquor retailers such as wine and VQA stores. It means that licensee retail stores have the ability to locate within one kilometre of a BCLS, and in fact, some have chosen to do so over the years.”

Miles apart or next door, Erickson also has issues with what, he says, appears to be an attempt by the province to up-scale their operations.

In 2003, when the province announced they were privatizing B.C. liquor stores and maintaining only the distribution system, Erickson invested in a wide variety of alcoholic beverages and associated merchandise for his operation.

When the government reversed their decision, something Erickson attributes to union pressure at election time, he says they promised to maintain basic stores only and allow private stores to compete with coolers to provide cold wine and spirits and specialty items.

“Last term, they said we’re not shutting down, but we’re not opening new stores… this term they’re opening new stores in all different markets,” he says.

And he has reason to be concerned.

An Aug. 26 Ministry of Justice press release indicates the government is installing walk-in beer and wine refrigeration units in Salmon Arm and two other locations, and is seeking feedback from the public in their current liquor policy review.

“Refrigeration units seem to be very popular with customers, but the public and industry will now have the opportunity to give us feedback on whether this is something they would like to see on a larger scale around the province,” says John Yap, parliamentary secretary for the liquor policy review.

But Salmon Arm Mayor Nancy Cooper points out that private liquor store owners also contribute through taxation.

She says she wishes Erickson had approached council sooner and that the city did not pursue the matter following the provincial response in March because it became evident Dixons was moving to the Shuswap Mall location being vacated by the provincial liquor store.

“The only way council might look at it again would be if there was pressure from the community, but it is kind of late in the day,” she says. “I certainly can understand where he’s (Erickson) coming from. We try to support business where we can – really, it’s small business that runs the country so we really try to respond.”

Erickson says Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo also offered him support, telling him he would see what he could do.

Erickson says he finds it interesting that a supposedly business-friendly government whose job is to “govern and deal with safety issues and regulations” is, in this case, coming in to compete with small business.

“We’re still in business and we’re still happy, but we’re fighting for our life a bit,” he says, noting only two Salmon Arm liquor stores are owned locally so he hopes the community will support the shop-local notion.

“I know we’re still doing a great job 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. 365 days of the year.”

 

Salmon Arm Observer