Changes to the liquor industry are killing liquor establishments in rural B.C., said Williams Lake Overlander Pub owner Lindsey Gasparini.
“Most of the province outside of Vancouver proper has already seen a 30 to 40 per cent decrease in volume sales of liquor with the introduction of the .05 alcohol limit for driving,” Gasparini said. “Last week’s announcement the government is proposing the sale of liquor in grocery stores is adding injury to insult.”
Gasparini has contacted parliamentary secretary John Yap’s office, Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett and said fellow pub owners in the north are up in arms about the proposal to sell liquor in grocery stores.
“We had about 90 other owners on a list with a basic letter saying if you do this you will kill the industry,” he said.
Barnett said her concern is what it will do to small businesses who have invested money, time and energy into rural liquor outlets.
“The public’s saying it wants liquor in grocery stores and we all want convenience in life, but I look at the bigger picture. The jobs these people create, the permanent jobs in Williams Lake,” Barnett said. “My concern is these peoples’ assets and these peoples’ jobs.”
Gasparini said many people are under the misconception alcohol is going to be cheaper in big grocery stores, especially in places like Costco.
As a pub owner, he pays the same price for liquor that customers pay for liquor in a store, he explained.
The only advantage pubs have when it comes to liquor purchasing is being exempt from having to pay provincial sales tax.
For the two beer and wine stores he owns locally, he receives about a 16 per cent reduction on the price of liquor from the government.
“Government controls all the liquor in B.C.,” he said. “They are the number one purchaser of alcohol. They buy it from a brewery or distillery, mark it up and add a tax to it.”
That’s why people get upset, Gasparini suggested.
A case of Canadian beer, imported into the U.S., is still about $10 less a case in the U.S. compared to buying it in Canada.
Over the years, the government has slowly pushed up taxes and pub owners cannot pass the increase on to the customer, he said.
“Us as the sellers can only mark it up so much or people aren’t going to buy it.”
Gasparini’s family has held a liquor licence since 1958.
His father, Ernie, owned pubs in Prince Rupert and the Fraser Valley and always maintained the government was in business with pub owners.
“Dad would say the government allowed businesses to make money from the sale of liquor so they could reinvest and keep their establishments looking nice. They didn’t want a bunch of skid row bars all over the province.”
Gasparini also questions the argument liquor in grocery stores is all about convenience.
“There are nine liquor outlets serving the Williams Lake, Wildwood, 150 Mile and Dog Creek Road areas,” he said. “How much more convenience do we need.”
It comes down to asking whether the government is proposing liquor be sold in grocery stores to drive up the lost revenue in taxes, he added.
“They’ve lost tax revenue off the social end of it because people are afraid to drink and drive, and now they are trying to make it more accessible to drive those tax dollars up by selling it in grocery stores?”