More liquor stores in B.C. may sell cold beer and wine

Walk-in beer and wine “cold rooms” will open at the end of September at three stores in Burnaby, Duncan and Salmon Arm

By Tim Petruk

Kamloops This Week

Another liquor-policy reform being eyed by the province would allow more government liquor stores to sell cold beer and wine, which has long been the domain of private stores.

Ten government stores already sell some refrigerated products, but the province will now test the waters for a major expansion.

Walk-in beer and wine “cold rooms” will open at the end of September at three stores in Burnaby, Duncan and Salmon Arm.

That’s the first stage of a pilot project that will add four more walk-in beer and wine refrigeration coolers at existing stores in Oliver, Osoyoos, Mill Bay and Grand Forks later in the fall.

The province wants feedback on the idea as part of its already-launched Liquor Policy Review, along with several other proposals for reform.

The concept may be in for a rough ride from the organization representing private liquor stores.

The Alliance of Beverage Licensees of B.C. called the move a surprise and said it would throw private outlets and government stores into more direct competition.

The mood among local liquor retailers appears to be one of unease.

Paul Vinepal, owner of McCracken Pub and Liquor Store in Valleyview, said the market is tough enough as it is without government stores offering cold beer and wine.

“We don’t think it’s a good idea, to be honest,” he said.

“They let the private investor make an investment and now they are doing this.”

Vinepal said the move will likely further decrease profit margins for an industry that has been struggling in recent years.

“We are already being hit hard by the lower consumption,” he said, referencing the 0.05 immediate roadside-prohibition legislation enacted in B.C. almost three years ago.

“That’s already affecting us and the other pubs,” Vinepal said.

“The government shouldn’t be competing against private enterprises. It definitely will affect our business and it’s already tough as it is.”

Rick Pollon, owner of Halston Liquor Store, said he’s against the change, but not all that surprised.

“Well, my take on it is the government should keep their hands out of everybody’s pockets,” he said, noting the pricing structure is unfair for private retailers.

“We’re kind of set on how we operate in pricing. They’re not.

“They kind of make up the rules as they go.”

Pollon believes the change will have an impact on consumers.

“It probably will, but I don’t know what it will be,” he said.

“We won’t have a chance to know until it happens.

“As it becomes more real, then it becomes more of a concern.”

John Yap, the parliamentary secretary for the liquor-policy review, said all other Canadian provinces offer refrigeration in most, if not all, of their government liquor stores.

“This is another area where we think B.C. is lagging behind other jurisdictions,” Yap said.

“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.”

Other potential reforms being explored include licensing farmers’ markets and spas to serve alcohol and letting under-aged children have lunch at a pub with their parents during the day.

Public consultations run until Oct. 31 and a website for comments is to launch next month.

Don’t expect booze to get cheaper under any future reforms.

The province aims to at least maintain if not increase its revenue.

– with files from Jeff Nagel of Black Press