The Weigh-in: Should beer and wine be sold in convenience stores?
Many Ontarians have taken trips down south and marveled at the novelty of being able to buy beer and wine at convenience stores. You have to admit, there’s something appealing about being able to buy a few tall cans at the same place you get your scratch cards.
This is a marvel, of course, because things are different here in Ontario, where the sale of alcohol is strictly regulated. The aptly titled Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) exists to ensure that alcohol can only be purchased at their retail stores. Whether or not this system is ideal has recently become a topic of debate amongst the people of Ontario.
Most agree that liquor (the hard stuff) should remain closely regulated, but opinions begin to vary when discussing wine and beer.
For some, including the owners of convenience stores themselves, the potential to have beer and wine sold at these ‘private’ ventures is attractive; it would only enhance the level of convenience these stores aim to provide.
For others, however, the system Ontario currently has in place is trusted and effective, and they see no real reason to complicate things by allowing the private sale of alcohol.
As a person who buys the occasional bottle of liquid courage, I’ve recently given some thought to this debate. Simply, I feel that unless Ontario adopts an entirely new, privatized system of alcohol sale, the only real benefit to having beer and wine sold at convenience stores is, well, convenience.
With exception to this lone benefit, there is no real reason to begin selling wine and beer elsewhere. Here’s why:
Even if wine and beer were to be sold in convenience stores, it is unlikely that the LCBO would have no involvement. Instead, like current bars and clubs, storeowners would be buying their alcohol from the LCBO and charging you a premium price for the ‘convenience’ they’re providing. That’s not all.
The LCBO employs people who are over the age of 19 who diligently ID customers to ensure that they are not selling alcohol to minors. How would this system work in the case of convenience stores, where associates are often teenagers themselves? It is reasonable to worry that selling wine and beer outside of these controlled environments could result in greater underage access to alcohol.
A final apprehension I have to the sale of beer and wine at convenience stores is the negative impact this could have on local breweries and wineries. The LCBO works closely with Ontario wineries to ensure that their products are sold in their retail stores. How would this change if wine and beer could be purchased at any convenience store, which would likely choose to carry the most popular brands?
This issue arises in a CBC article from October 29, where a group of retailers pledge to hold 30 per cent of their retail space for Ontario-made beverages.
I can’t help but imagine that 30 per cent will mean very little at a convenience store where the selection will already be less abundant. How many of the Ontario wineries and breweries will be included in this 30 per cent?
Ultimately, I feel that Ontario’s current system works well. If we want alcohol, we know where to go, we know what we’re getting, and we know what to expect.
Perhaps what Ontario could really benefit from is a partnership between the LCBO and The Beer Store. Sounds convenient, doesn’t it?
DANI – FOR
Recently, the idea of beer and wine being sold in Canadian convenience stores has received media and political attention with all three major parties chiming in.
Beyond the economic debate, which is certainly one worth having, the other arguments against more readily available beer and wine revolve around a fear of public intoxication, troubling young hoodlums and a fear of change itself. I don’t drink and couldn’t care less about where people get their alcohol. However, this debate is less about alcohol and more about logic and the nonsensical fears of political parties. Oh, by the way this already works just fine in Quebec.
The Beer Store likes to believe that they alone can offer a wide selection. However, I am not sure why this argument only applies to alcohol. Convenience stores sell chocolate bars while stores that specialize in candy and chocolate still exist. The same applies to snacks, fruit, coffee and pretty much anything else that the convenience store sells. Alcohol can be sold at The Beer Store and at convenience stores. Both can exist and serve a purpose.
Moreover, The Beer Store is owned by major breweries and has more incentive to sell their products then those of micro-breweries. Competition increases variety and lowers prices for consumers, particularly after breaking up monopolies.
The argument that ending the monopoly of the Beer Store and LCBO will result in lost revenue for the government would be compelling if it was true. Yes, the LCBO returned 1.7 billion dollars to the government, but taxes on alcohol sold elsewhere would make up for any lost revenue, and then some.
Currently, the Beer Store holds a foreign-owned monopoly in the province so hundreds of millions of dollars in profit leave the province and go to companies based in Belgium, Japan and the US. Let’s keep the money in Ontario. The government can also save money they spent on government-run stores.
Allowing alcohol to be sold in convenience stores means more money for the government and craft beer companies, and saves consumers money while increasing variety. Why is this still being debated?
A final point of contention for supporters of the monopoly is that access to alcohol will increase drunkards in the streets and cause general chaos. If beer can be bought in a convenience store then naturally young people will buy it, drink it outside the store and run rampant through the town.
This argument not only highlights the government’s distrust for the public but also defies all evidence. This has not been a problem in Quebec. And if young people want to drink and cause trouble they can go buy from the LCBO and The Beer Store and do just that. Convenience stores actually scored better than the LCBO or Beer Store when it came to selling products to underage customers.
So, let’s put the alcohol in the hands of retailers who keep products away from kids.
Simply, convenience store beer and wine purchases are convenient. Beer and wine in convenience stores would allow the LCBO to focus on what is does best, which isn’t convenience, but its vast selection and vintages that would couldn’t be sold in a convenience store.
In summary, beer and wine sales benefit consumers, small business, the government and local economies while more clearly defining the purpose of major retailers who will still be hugely profitable. Ontarians are ready for an end to the monopoly.