SHHA: Private liquor store rules unfair

Tom Mullin, SHHA

Tom Mullin, SHHA

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REGINA—The province of Saskatchewan announced it is allowing the addition of private liquor stores in Regina and Saskatoon. Both cities will see existing retail stores build or expand their brand with the addition of liquor outlets, not operated by Saskatchewan’s Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA), according to the SLGA.

Both Sobeys and Co-op will build one liquor store across the parking lot from their respective stores or fuel stations in Saskatoon. Co-op and Sobeys—both currently operating private liquor stores in Alberta—were granted the right to the stores through an open Request for Proposals (RFP) put out by the SLGA.

In Regina, two standalone stores will open, one by Sobeys, the other an expansion of the Willow Park Wine & Spirits brand. Also selected through an RFP, the two operators will build new stores, both set to open mid-2014, according to a release.

The move drew mixed reactions from the Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association, whose members include owners of the province’s off-sale outlets.

Saskatchewan currently has 79 public liquor stores, and the province has said it will not build any more of them. Otherwise, liquor is sold at approximately 185 private rural liquor franchises and 440 private off-sale outlets, according to the release.

Off-sale outlets include hotels, motels and bars in some communities. The Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association (SHHA) reacted to the new liquor sale announcement saying that off-sale outlets contribute positively to the province.

“Private retailers are good corporate citizens who pay their taxes, employ staff and make generous contributions to their community,” SHHA president Tom Mullin said. “In many cases, hotels are the main gathering point in a community and their owners volunteer their time and energies to support worthwhile local initiatives.”

At the same time, the association is concerned that the private stores are getting some advantages not available to off-sale outlets. Mullin told CLN that existing private sellers of alcohol are strictly regulated when it comes to pricing of alcohol, and said their profit margins are lower, compared to the margins of SLGA stores.

“Our position is that we want to get treated the same way as the new private stores,” Mullin said.  “The new stores get 16 per cent commission on all products, and they can set their own pricing provided it is not lower than a minimum price. They carry a full range of products, and they can sell cold domestic beer, which has always been our domain. We get an average of 12 per cent on beer, and nothing on liquor.”