My W'h'ine This Week

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My W'h'ine This Week

My W'h'ine This Week

Author: Alison Phillips/Thursday, April 25, 2024/Categories: Uncategorized, Blog

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My “W(h)ine” this week 

This month is our 16th financial year end. May 1 starts our 17th year in the liquor business in Alberta, owning and operating a small “boutique” store.  I thought by now, nothing would surprise me in this business.  After all, over the years we’ve had to contend with abolishing the 500 meter rule between stores in Edmonton, stores selling products below cost, restaurants wanting to buy wines from us for 4% over cost (but not full cases of anything) then turn around and mark them up to their customers 200-300%.  The latest issue we’re having to deal with makes me wonder what direction the government and consumers want to go in.  

At last count, there were nearly 1700 private liquor stores registered in Alberta serving a population of 4,800,750 residents in the province.  Many of these stores are independents, “Mom & Pop” corner stores and it’s not unusual to see 4 or 5 in a small town.  In larger cities like Edmonton and Calgary, there are the big boz stores and most strip malls have a liquor store tenant. They’re on every street corner, be it large chain stores, or smaller independent ones.  It’s not difficult to find somewhere close at hand to buy booze.  

But wait a second. We didn’t get into this business to simply sell booze. We saw an opportunity to “raise the bar”, a niche for small, independent nicely appointed stores selling wines and spirits that have been curated by professionals for discerning buyers who enjoy not just a drink, but an experience with something well-made and a good story behind it. A beverage for celebrating a milestone or sharing with special friends, not just cheap bottles of vodka and beer to get drunk. 

Those of us in this category of liquor store have passion and have invested years of learning behind us.  We’ve taken professional courses that give us the qualifications to purchase not just basic alcoholic products, but products that people will enjoy and appreciate and expand their own knowledge of wines and spirits for personal pleasure. We’ve developed relationships with liquor reps who get to know our business and help us cater to what our clients want. Good wine and good food pairing is something that has expanded in our society as part of an active lifestyle choice.  It’s fun and rewarding talking to like-minded customers who come in and know they’re going to get something special or unique or even chosen specifically with their occasion in mind. 

Over the last few years, the availability of more specialty products, higher end brands and collectible wines has noticeably eroded here in Alberta.  Smaller agencies are struggling to bring in products due to supply issues, less retailers are wanting to carry more expensive or exclusive products, and lately, increased storage fees at Liquor Connect where all merchandise is warehoused, is crippling some agencies.  It’s becoming harder and harder as an independent retailer to have a niche and/or compete with the bigger guys.  Brazen thefts and swarming at some liquor stores where thieves come in and steal as much as they can carry out of the store leave terrified employees who are told there’s a “Hands off Policy” feeling helpless and violated. 

And now this.  Last week we received an email from ALSA (Alberta Liquor Store Association), asking our opinion on the latest government idea to allow liquor sales in convenience and grocery stores like Ontario does. Ontario liquor sales are controlled by LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) so it’s not a privatized environment like Alberta. 

In a privatized environment here in Alberta where many large grocery stores have a stand alone liquor store already operating in their parking lot, why do we need this too?  

In the same email, we were also asked -   How do we feel about mandating that every liquor store must install at their own expense ($7-$15,000) an ID scanner security system for anyone to enter our premises? 

Wait a minute….. on the one had you want to open up the sale in grocery and convenience stores where anyone even kids can shop, and the other hand control who gets into proper licensed and qualified liquor stores inevitably discouraging people wanting to shop there?   It’s crazy.  And remember, we already have nearly 1700 stores that sell the same 2000 products . 

I’ve enjoyed our unique experience operating a successful boutique wine and spirits store at West Edmonton Mall since 2007.  When we opened in this location, we were told we were crazy and wouldn’t make it.  We’ve enjoy exclusivity in the mall, regular tourist traffic as well as neighbours and Edmontonians who have supported our business. Through educating ourselves, getting to know our customers and passing on special products, bringing in international winemakers to share their stories, hosting tasting events and classes we’ve contributed to raising the bar on this industry, as have the other few small boutique stores in town.  We’re proud of what we do and how we do it in what is a very competitive business. 

If these new rules come to pass, it will be the end of so many good independent stores.    Without the passionate smaller boutique store owners who have made it their mission to ferret out and bring in higher end and specialty products, and get to know their customers, the consumer will be left with mostly mass produced basic products that sell on volume.  Good luck trying to find that wonderful bottle of Petit Verdot from Australia you enjoyed or the small producer Burgundy from France or a 25 year old single malt.  Those days are numbered. Society doesn’t need more liquor stores. Let’s support the good ones we currently have.  

 

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