Coquitlam booze biz owners oppose grocery store rule changes

Pub and liquor store owners in Coquitlam say rule changes that would allow...

Pub and liquor store owners in Coquitlam are urging city council to vote against changes in regulations that would allow grocery chains to sell booze | Alexandru Nika / 

Pub and liquor store owners in Coquitlam say rule changes that would allow large grocery store chains to sell booze in the city will hurt their businesses.

Brian Coomer, a representative of the John B Pub on Austin Avenue, called it a “David and Goliath story,” and urged city council to vote against regulations that would allow the store-within-a-store liquor sale model. 

He added that if the big chains get into the booze business, it will not only hurt small liquor retailers but pub owners as well, many of whom rely on store sales to make a profit.

“We are not against competition and fair practices,” he said during a public hearing in Coquitlam council chambers April 25.

“What we are against is destructive competition where rules are slanted or uneven.”

Coomer was not alone in his opposition to the regulation changes, with Gordon Cartwright, the owner of Woody’s Pub on Brunette Avenue, which has an adjoining liquor store, and Ed Wong, another Coquitlam liquor retailer, speaking against the city’s proposal.

Jeff Guignard, the executive director of the Alliance of Beverage Licensees, said current licence holders have built their businesses under the existing regulations. It is inappropriate to now change the rules so larger grocery store chains can enter the industry, he added. 

“It is a fundamental issue of fairness,” Guignard said. “Allowing grocery stores to retail alcohol by a different set of rules… will hurt businesses in Coquitlam and it will hurt the people they employ.”

The rule changes council is considering under liquor law changes enacted by the provincial government would allow the store-within-a-store liquor sales and would remove the 300-metre separation distances between liquor outlets and public parks and places of worship. It would also reduce the separation distances between liquor stores and schools from 300 metres to 150 metres while maintaining a 300-metre separation distance between liquor outlets.

Guignard’s organization, which started in 1975 and today represents 1,000 liquor licensees, favours 1 km separation distances between liquor stores. He said the rules ensure a “degree of market certainty” and have been “resoundingly successful government policy.”

Members of the BC Government Employees Union, which represents government liquor store workers, also spoke against the rule changes. 

Sussanne Skidmore, a BCGEU executive director, said the expansion of liquor sales in the city would have adverse health and social impacts. She also noted with the continued privatization of the liquor business, she “worried about losing good, living-wage jobs.”

While most of the April 25 hearing was focused on liquor retail sales, council is also considering bylaw changes that would permit liquor manufacturing in the city. The rule changes would allow for craft breweries and distilleries with accessory retail sales and seating areas for product tasting. 

The hearing was the second time residents had a chance to weigh in on the liquor rule changes. The issue first came to a public hearing in February, but the process had to restart after councillors suggested amendments to the rules after the hearing took place and the report was sent back to committee. 

With the public hearing process complete, council will now vote on the new regulations at an upcoming meeting. 

Tri-City News