It’s been six weeks since the Nesters Liquor Store was forced to close its doors because of licensing issues, but proprietors Colin Johnson and Andrew Ellott believe they are close to a solution that would allow the store to reopen.
“I wouldn’t make a promise to be open by a certain date, but I feel we’ve achieved a lot,” said Ellott on Wednesday. “It’s been a complicated and expensive legal process, but I think we’ve found a partner that would enable us to reopen, fingers crossed. At the end of the day we’ve done everything we can, and the decision will come down to the (B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Branch, or LCLB) board.”
The Nesters Liquor Store was forced to close in late January when the LCLB suspended its Beer and Wine licence, which was attached to the Liquor Primary Licence formerly held by the Boot Pub. With a moratorium on new liquor licenses within the municipality, the intention was to use the Liquor Primary Licence for a pub proposed on the Rainbow lands. However, delays in construction went against the conditions of the original licence that stipulated that the Liquor Primary needed to be open and operating for the Beer and Wine licence to be valid.
Since it will likely be a long time before a pub can be opened at Rainbow, that left the Nesters Liquor Store with one option — to find a local bar in Whistler that would be willing to take on the Boot Pub license in place of its own licence, thereby meeting the conditions of the original Liquor Primary.
It’s taken several weeks of knocking on doors of local businesses and discussions with the LCLB and municipality, but Ellott believes they are close to signing an agreement with a local establishment to take on the license. He hopes to have the paperwork finalized by the end of the month.
“We’ve been working around the clock trying to find a solution that works for the liquor board and municipality, and to be honest there were not a lot of options because of the moratorium on new liquor primary licences in the village,” he said. “The challenge was finding a bar that was willing to do this for us, and two, to work out the details to the satisfaction of the municipality and liquor board.”
According to Ellott, the municipality has been helpful in guiding the process.
“We respect the municipality’s decision that there is enough density in town with existing bars… but we’ve worked closely with them to find another solution. They’ve been helpful in identifying a suitable partner, and have been showing some urgency on our behalf.”
Nesters Liquor Store has continued to pay its staff through the closure to avoid rehiring for all positions once the store reopens.
“We believe we will reopen, and if we hadn’t kept paying staff we would have lost them to other jobs because they couldn’t stop working,” said Ellott. “We would have had trouble reopening because we’d have to rehire and retrain in a tight labour market. We have a great staff, and we wanted to give it two or three months.
“It was expensive to do that but we believe in the long run it was the right thing to do, to stand by the staff that have been loyal to us. We can’t do it forever, but for a reasonable length of time…60 to 90 days to realistically have a chance to reopen.”