Council tackling new liquor licence laws

Prince Rupert city council turned its attention to Bill 22 to allow wine to be sold in the two biggest grocery stores in the city.

Effects from Bill 22, the Special Wine Store Licence Auction Act passed in the B.C. legislature in the spring of last year, are starting to make their way to the North Coast.

Prince Rupert city council turned its attention to the Bill and its proposed changes to allow grocery stores 10,000 sq. ft. or larger to sell B.C. wine on their shelves and be exempt from the one-kilometre distance rule, which outlines that the grocery store should be at least one kilometre away from an existing liquor outlet.

Save-On-Foods and Safeway are the two grocery stores in Prince Rupert to fall under this designation, should any of them bid on a licence for a ‘Store-within-a-Store’ model (one cart shopping experience with a separate liquor retailer on-site).

Prince Rupert city planner Zeno Krekic stated in his report that if one of the existing grocery stores applies and gains the licence model without abiding to the distance rule, possible outcomes include the relocation of wine sales from one of the existing private liquor stores or government liquor stores, or a new licence for sale of wines on the shelves (sale of 100 per cent B.C. wines) for BC Wine Institute stores or independent wine stores.

Only one municipality has adopted a bylaw to address the Bill, and that’s Kamloops, Krekic explained.

Coun. Barry Cunningham voiced his concern over the possible negative impact that having grocery stores sell wine may have on employment in the region.

“If Safeway and [Save-On-Foods] were to get licences to sell beer and wine … they’re not going to be hiring any more staff. They will probably just have one aisle designated for liquor sales, whereas it’s going to impact six or seven businesses in town right now that probably hire [between them] 40 or 50 people,” he said.

“There might be layoffs [or] shutdowns. I think we’ve got enough outlets right now.”

Councillors Wade Niesh and Joy Thorkelson agreed with Cunningham. Thorkelson noted that she’s never had trouble with any Rupert citizen having a problem finding alcohol, while Niesh stated that “current beer stores offer enough product and anyone can get what they want when they need it”.

“I think that by supporting the local businesses, and keeping the local beer and wine stores functioning, and not losing to the big box store mentality, I think that’s what we should do to support our local businesses,” Niesh added.

Council agreed to follow staff’s recommendation to forward the item to be included in the upcoming updates of the Official Community Plan and zoning bylaws. Krekic also expressed a desire to congregate all retail establishments under one definition and as a single permitted use to allow for flexibility in Prince Rupert’s “boom and bust” economy.