One-stop shoppers of Lake Cowichan — at least those who also enjoy a glass of wine — are not likely going to be picking up their vino along with their groceries any time soon.
Last week, Lake Cowichan town council received a letter addressed to Mayor Ross Forrest from the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) urging him to consider implementing a six-month moratorium on grocery store sales of wine to consider potential “unforeseen health and public safety consequences” for the community.
BCGEU represents workers at provincially owned and operated liquor stores.
In the letter, BCGEU president Stephanie Smith shares concerns that grocery store sales of wine will make it easier for minors to purchase alcohol.
“Grocery store employees will not receive the same level of training as BC Liquor Store employees. They will not be as knowledgeable on the rules and regulations around identification, nor as experienced in spotting false identification,” she said.
“Proponents of wine in grocery stores haven’t addressed the issue of staff who are minors. Allowing wine in grocery stores will mean that either minors will be stocking liquor and handling liquor sales or, if they are restricted from handling alcohol, young people may lose access to grocery store jobs.”
In her letter, Smith also asserts it will be easier for people to shoplift wine from grocery stores because of the large size of grocery stores with “tall shelving that blocks sightlines.”
Smith reiterated BCGEU’s desire that Forrest and the Lake Cowichan town council impose a moratorium on the sale of wine in grocery stores to study their potential impacts.
“We also urge you to implement a one-kilometre distance rule at the municipal level for all alcohol retailers to ensure there is no proliferation of liquor outlets in our communities,” she said.
Currently the only liquor stores in Lake Cowichan — the BC Liquor Store and the Riverside Cold Beer and Wine Store — are located approximately 100 metres apart.
The BCGEU represents about 3,800 employees of liquor distribution branches across the province.
Town council received the letter at its April 26 monthly council meeting but did not publicly discuss the topic.
“Council felt it prudent not to take a position on this matter,” said CAO Joseph Fernandez.
Jenn Pollner, manager of Country Grocer, said while she can’t speak for the Country Grocer chain, at this time her store has no plans to pursue wine sales.
“I don’t know what everyone else’s opinions are but the idea of selling liquor in our store right now is not a fun idea because the rules and regulations right now are kind of all over the place,” she said.
Pollner cited a lack of clarity in the regulations.
“It’s very confusing as to what the options would be, whether [wine] can be just in your store or whether it has to be a separate store inside your store or whether you’re allowed to sell it right next to your cheese.”
Pollner said she did not want to categorically rule out the possibility, but emphasized that for now it is not a priority at her store.
“I won’t say it won’t ever change like that. If all grocery stores are going to be selling it then obviously we’re going to be selling it.”
“It’s not really something we want to do for this summer. Things are going to be crazy enough as it is,” she said with a laugh, referring to the upcoming Sunfest Country Music Festival.