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Still no liquor sales on the horizon for Whistler's grocery stores

Stores will have chance to bid on opportunities to apply for liquor license



It appears Whistler outlets won't be among the 18 grocery stores across the province that will have the chance to apply for a liquor license through an auction process launched by the B.C. Government.

Victoria announced last week that grocery stores would have the chance to bid on six opportunities to apply for the right to sell made-in-B.C. alcohol off their shelves. Up to 18 licenses could be granted through this process, with the first round of auctions scheduled for late April.

Only stores that meet certain criteria will be eligible to apply, ruling out at least one resort outlet, The Grocery Store in Village Square, which doesn't meet the minimum 929-square-metre threshold. A $25,000 deposit is also required from all bidders, which would be returned if the bid is ultimately unsuccessful.

"I've looked at this over the years with our national organization, the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, and the feedback I've gotten (on selling liquor) is not that positive in terms of what you have to do," said co-owner Bob Adams. "You have to have a 19-year-old working on a separate till and have the areas covered off, and we don't have the space to do that."

Successful bidders will be permitted to sell only wine, cider or sake made from B.C.-sourced ingredients in specially designated display areas.

Jerry Marsh, owner of Creekside Market, said offering alcohol for sale in his store wouldn't make sense due to its close proximity to an existing BC Liquor Store. The manager of Whistler's Nesters Market location, however, didn't rule out the possibility.

"We're part of a corporation, so I can't speak to what they would say exactly about that," said Bruce Stewart. "All I do know is that there would always be an appetite to look at that process and there would probably be some interest as a company to carry alcohol."

A spokesperson for Buy-Low Foods, which operates 32 corporate and franchise stores including the Nesters Market locations, sent the following emailed statement: "We are following this opportunity and once we have more details about the opportunities available for retailers, we will consider how it may fit with our operations. We would also need to consider the specifics of our lease and be respectful of our neighbouring businesses at Nesters Square.

"No decisions have been made at this time but we are always open to exploring opportunities to bring added convenience and local products to customers in our stores."

While Adams is supportive of liquor sales in grocery stores, he'd rather see the auction process opened up to any interested store owners.

"I would prefer it if anybody that had a store that wanted to (sell liquor) be able to do it," he said. "I think that would be the best thing to happen."

The auctions are seen as a way to allocate a limited number of licenses while also raising revenue for the government, according to the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch. The minimum bid amount in each auction is set at $125,000.

The move comes as part of a wave of new provincial liquor legislation. The Liquor Policy Review was drafted after years of consultation with both the public and industry, and resulted in a list of recommendations aimed at modernizing B.C.'s liquor laws. One of the report's key recommendations was to allow for the sale of alcohol in certain grocery stores, which began stocking their shelves with B.C. wine last April.


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