ALMAGUIN – The LCBO isn’t opening any new agency stores in Almaguin.
FREE OUR BEER.
But maybe the government shouldn’t be making all the calls when it comes to access to alcohol.
“This issue isn’t going away. Most people think it’s time for a change,” said Dave Bryans, president of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association.
“It’s time to move forward and discuss better access,” said Bryans. “It’s about what the public wants.”
The OCSA isn’t pushing for more agency stores, but for the Province to loosen its grip on the alcohol business altogether.
“The problem with the agency store model that exists today is that it only benefits one person,” said Bryans.
Bryans said because the contract is only five years long, the store owner isn’t in a position to securely invest in the liquor portion of their setup, in case they aren’t awarded the contact when it comes available next time.
“They are basically designed to fail because they can’t design a better shopping experience for their customer,” he said.
Currently, a contract is available in Nipissing Township. The request for proposal has been sent made on a contract that was previously awarded in that area. In order to apply, store-owners must submit a proposal and a $100 application fee.
About four weeks ago, Bryans took a petition to Queen’s Park asking for beer and wine to be sold in convenience stores. The www.freeourbeer.ca petition included 112,500 signatures, which were collected over the span of about one month.
“If I was a politician, I would think that was a powerful thing,” said Bryans, who said as the petition circulated to 220 communities, people were lined up to sign it.
“It actually shocked me that people lined up,” said Bryans. “This is the biggest water cooler discussion in the province over the past year.”
Phyllis Young, owner of Young’s South Shore Centre in Nipissing, which also serves as an LCBO agency store, knows the value of being a one-stop shop.
“I wrote letters for about 18 years before we got one (an agency store),” she said. “It’s been a very good thing for our business and a good thing for the community.”
Young said being located close to tourist camps means it just makes sense for her to be able to offer her customers everything they need under one roof.
But, as is true with all agency stores, Young has to re-apply every five years along with anyone else who is interested in the contract.
Agency store operators are selected through a competitive process.
All retail businesses within a 10-kilometre radius of the selected community have the opportunity to apply if they wish to do so.
Created in 1962, the LCBO agency store program provides beverage alcohol retail service in communities where the local population is too small to support a regular liquor or beer store.
Agency stores are not a replacement for regular LCBO outlets. They are an extension of the network in markets where a regular store could not be commercially viable.
There are 214 agency stores across Ontario, representing 2.1% of LCBO total sales.
“We don’t need these Taj Mahal LCBOs built in every neighbourhood putting our local retailers out of business,” said Bryans. “It hurts rural and Northern Ontario more than it hurts the larger centres.”
The LCBO says the agency store program is an attempt to improve service to smaller communities, promoting local retail activity and economic development opportunity for rural areas.
But Bryans says the government-controlled alcohol sales is an old idea and Ontarians are mature enough to take the reigns.
“The alcohol laws go back to 1927. They’re archaic,” he said. “Drinking and driving over the past 10 years has gone down around 33 per cent even with longer bar hours and microbreweries popping up all over the place, so why is the government allowed to restrict access like this? If you can buy liquor in every convenience store in Newfoundland, then why can’t you do that in Ontario?”