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Bar managers work to end price wars

Recommit to Good Neighbour Agreement to curb rowdiness in village

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Over the past two weekends the Whistler-Pemberton RCMP responded to more than 90 calls, most of which were related to alcohol.

While those numbers are more or less typical for this time of year, with people taking advantage of off-season hotel prices and the annual influx of new workers, there is some concern over the recent decisions by bars and clubs to offer drink specials.

In the past, bars and clubs would refrain from offering drink specials as part of a Good Neighbour Agreement among managers and owners.

The Good Neighbour Agreement is essentially a voluntary agreement on the part of owners to keep noise levels down, to ensure the orderly dispersal of customers at closing time, and to avoid over-serving customers. The agreement not to offer drink specials stems from the "bar wars" that took place in the mid-to-late 1990s, and which resulted in high levels of drunken and violent behaviour in the village.

Realizing that kind of behaviour was starting to scare tourists away and impact Whistler’s reputation, bar managers formed the Whistler Food and Beverage Association, and with the municipality and RCMP created the Good Neighbour Agreement to set a higher standard for doing business in the resort. With most establishments complying, that put an end to the bar wars.

The drink specials started to appear last winter when a January rain storm and warmer than normal weather kept tourists away, and some bars and clubs were looking for ways to attract customers. While business picked up in the spring and summer, tourism numbers are still down and the drink specials are still being offered.

Whistler’s bar and club managers met last Friday to discuss issues and to reaffirm their commitment to the Good Neighbour Agreement.

"I think because there are a lot of new managers and owners in town, it was a good time to bring out the Good Neighbour Agreement again," said Joey Gibbons, who represents the ownership group of Buffalo Bill’s and The Longhorn Saloon on the Food and Beverage Association. "We dropped off copies to the different bars, went through the agreement to make sure we were clear, and everyone at the meeting agreed to it. Some of the bars that were not following it as much as we’d like, they got back on track I think, so it was good."

The Good Neighbour Agreement is voluntary but there are a lot of reasons for complying, Gibbons added.

"It’s pretty obvious (reading) the Pique that there are places coming out with these drink specials. It’s tough because we can’t control what they do, and I don’t think it’s up to us to do that. But places that choose to do that kind of thing will face bigger issues when it comes to expanding their licences, and doing that kind of thing with the municipality," said Gibbons.

"It’s all a bit of a grey area, but the basis of the Good Neighbour Agreement is that if we’re willing to work with the community, they’re willing to work with us. If you’re the guy who stands out because you have cheap drinks, or you’re the guy who has all of the fights, or if you’re creating the problems, you’re going to have a harder time getting through all the different levels in the municipality."

One example is the province now allows bars to apply to increase their licensed capacity to the capacity established by the fire marshal. The Resort Municipality of Whistler has to approve those applications before they go to the province, and Gibbons says that bars that have a good record of complying with the Good Neighbour Agreement will have a better case.

Another area where compliance is a benefit is in applying for RMOW approval for renovations and other liquor licence changes.

"Liquor laws do change with time, and when you apply for those changes… a lot of them have to go by council or the muni," said Gibbons. "It’s better for you if they say ‘this group is in good standing with the Good Neighbour Agreement, because they are keeping track. Bars have to be answerable for their records."

That said, Gibbons said that the management group at Friday’s meeting is the strongest he has seen in years, noting that the "black sheep" owners and managers from the past have left town.

"One thing within (the bar community) is that we have a good relationship right now, all of the different managers are coming together for these different meetings. We also have a great relationship with the RCMP and the municipality, we’re all working together and meeting regularly so everything gets on the table that needs to be resolved, and we won’t see the bar wars we saw years ago."

For their part the RCMP is satisfied that the bars have renewed their commitment to the Good Neighbour Agreement.

"As long as the bars are operating within the law, there’s nothing we can do. But the bar owners here have always gone an extra step with the Good Neighbour Agreement, and we think it’s a good program and we’re glad it’s still a priority for them," said RCMP community policing officer Devon Jones.

"We were aware of the drink specials being offered, and we were keeping an eye on that. It was still a long way from being a free-for-all, we were not seeing anything we didn’t already see before the specials were being offered – it’s always busy for us at this time of year.

"Our main concern is over-serving. There is some concern that lower prices will lead to that, people will drink more, and the bar owners are aware of those concerns."

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