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Vancouver to allow separate liquor stores in grocery stores

City council continues its ban on allowing wine on grocery store shelves
Save-On-Foods president Darrell Jones told Business in Vancouver that he does not want to sell hard liquor in his stores and instead would prefer to be able to sell B.C. wine on shelves

Grocery store operators in Vancouver are expected to soon have a new option to open separate liquor stores in parts of their stores, thanks to city council on April 17 approving a zoning bylaw that permits the sale of liquor in grocery stores.

Council will consider specific policies and guidelines for selling liquor, beer and wine in separated stores within grocery stores in early May and, if approved, city staff could accept applications by May 14.

Any grocery store that would have a separated store within a store would have to own a licence, and there are a limited number of liquor licences in the province. Sales for licences usually top $1 million.

The model also has restrictions such as that the entire grocery store must be at least 10,000 square feet and that it be at least one kilometre away from another liquor retailer – a restriction that severely restricts the number of grocery stores that would be eligible. 

Despite those restrictions, the city’s chief  license inspector, Kathryn Holm, told Business in Vancouver on April 18 that her team has spoken with a grocery store representative who was interested in potentially opening one of the stores. Grocery store executives from two chains contacted by BIV have said that they are not interested.

City council is continuing its ban on grocers being able to go through the process to get approved to sell B.C. wine on grocery store shelves.

That option is far more popular among grocers than hiving off a portion of the store to create a separate liquor store. That is largely because having wine on shelves is a more efficient use of square footage as it does not require building walls. It would also mean that there would not need to be square footage wasted to create additional checkouts for the separate store within the store. 

Grocery store executives have wanted to go through the process to be able to have wine on grocery store shelves in Vancouver since the former BC Liberal government made such a process legal on April 1, 2015.

The Urban Fare on Alberni Street, for example, cleared shelves in a part of its store in 2015 and was intending to go through the process of getting approved to have wine on its shelves when city council enacted a moratorium so it could study the issue.

City staff last year urged council to continue its moratorium and council went along with that recommendation – to the befuddlement of grocery executives such as Overwaitea president Darrell Jones.

“It’s surprising to me that the city would not want to take the opportunity to help local growers promote their products,” Jones told BIV last year.

“I’m not interested in selling hard liquor within grocery stores. We don’t think that that’s the right thing for the families and our customers.”

The head of another grocery chain that has many stores in B.C. did not want to be quoted for this story but he also said he had no plans to buy a pricy liquor licence and hive off part of a store. He doubted that any of his Vancouver stores would meet the criteria of being far enough away from another liquor store or a school.

Overwaitea sells wine on shelves at 16 of its Save-On-Foods stores and Jones told BIV that he specifically would "love" to sell wine on shelves at his company's Save-On-Foods store on Cambie Street at West 7th Avenue. A 17th Save-On-Foods store, in Cloverdale, will start selling wine on shelves tomorrow (April 19). An 18th location of that chain, in Campbell River, is set to start selling wine on shelves in early May.

Real Canadian Superstore also has at least six licences to sell wine on shelves at some of its B.C. grocery stores.

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