B.C.’s international wine stores to soon sell beer, spirits

Wine-store owners have felt unfairly treated for years

john clerides - bc wine section
Marquis Wine Cellars owner John Clerides stands in his Davie Street store | Rob Kruyt

B.C.’s 11 international wine stores will soon be able to sell beer and spirits thanks to a change that owners have been lobbying for since at least 2015, when the previous Liberal government made widespread changes to B.C. liquor laws.  

The B.C. government announced on June 29 that it is amending its regulations to ensure the transition takes effect. Stores that are licensed to sell exclusively B.C. wine are not included in the change.

The international wine stores, such as Marquis Wine Cellars, Liberty Wine Merchants and Broadway International Wine Shop, have all been operating under a class of licence that was granted in the mid-1980s, and has long been unavailable to new applicants.

The concept for the international wine store licences back in the 1980s was that the stores could carry wines from all over the world, and in exchange for not being allowed to sell beer or spirits, they would be given discounts of around 30% off the B.C. government’s retail price.

The B.C. government stopped issuing those licences decades ago and started to issue licences for private stores that could sell beer, wine and liquor. Those stores, however, were required to buy products from the government at 16% off the government’s retail price.

Licences for hundreds of these new private liquor stores – at least 670 – were granted and their ubiquitousness dwarfed the presence of the wine stores, as well as the BCLDB’s 197 government-run stores.

So when the government changed how it would mark up alcohol prices in 2015, little thought was paid to the entrepreneurs who owned what was then 12 international wine store licences, owners of those stores told Business in Vancouver at the time.

Former Attorney General Suzanne Anton oversaw creating a new formula to create a single wholesale price at which all alcohol retailers in the province could buy products, even those that had restrictions on their licences that kept them from selling popular products, such as beers. 

The B.C. government allowed international wine stores to convert into liquor stores only if they were one kilometre or more from another liquor store.

The result was that only one of the 12 licensees took the government up on that offer.

Marquis Wine Cellars’ owner John Clerides told BIV June 29 that he was elated with the change for which he has long been lobbying.

“Absolutely, we’ll be selling beer and spirits,” he said. “This is a game-changer. It truly levels the playing field.”

He has not yet determined how to reorganize his store but he expects to use much of his cooler space for local craft beers.

He will likely even carry beers from the large brewers.

“I haven’t made that decision yet,” he said. “That’s a big part of the market. The West End is a diverse community and I don’t want to alienate people.”

While Clerides is able to sell a full range of alcoholic products even though he is less than one kilometre from a liquor store, if he ever does transfer his licence to a new location, that location will not be allowed to be any closer than one kilometre from another liquor store, according to the B.C. government.