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Beer and booze - with benefits

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It's too early to tell whether this region will get one of the new grocery-store-based liquor outlets the provincial government plans to create in the coming 18 months.

But retailers already licensed to offer beer, wine and spirits to their customers through special “agency stores” at select locations in Leeds-Grenville – such as grocery stores and even gas stations - say expanded consumer access has proven popular in their communities.

The new ‘LCBO Express’ stores announced this week by the Ontario government will be smaller outlets, operating with LCBO staff, within host stores, Liquor Control Board of Ontario spokesman Heather MacGregor said. That’s different from agency stores that were introduced to this area a decade ago, which are run by non-LCBO retailers who are trained and licenced by the LCBO.

The agency stores are intended to serve areas too small for a full-sized LCBO store.

John Purcell, who co-owns Purcell’s Freshmart in Mallorytown with his brother, Mike, has operated an agency store there since 2002. He said the initiative has proven to be a benefit.

“It's good for the business and I think good for the community,” said John Purcell.

“It basically provides a one-stop shop within our store.”

Purcell said the LCBO monitors stores such as his closely.

“They’re very strict and we check IDs quite vigorously,” he said.

Front of Yonge Mayor Roger Haley said the agency store has been a boon to his community because the Purcells are responsible store owners and upstanding citizens.

“They do run a class act,” said Haley.

Another of the region’s agency stores is at the Drummond's Gas in Spencerville.

“It does very good business,” manager Michelle Bowman said Wednesday.

A finance ministry spokesman assures the new initiative will not affect the LCBO’s agency stores currently operating in the area.

“None of the agency stores will be closed because of this announcement,” Scott Blodgett said Wednesday.

The 10 pilot mini-LCBOs are to be opened over the next 12 to 18 months. LCBO staffers would operate the express outlets, which would function as a store-within-a-store, like Ontario wine kiosks now found in some supermarkets but larger and with a full spectrum of alcohol products.

Along with the 10 LCBO Express outlets, the pilot project also includes five “VQA Destination Boutiques,” Blodgett said.

Details about the location of the new outlets are yet to come.

“They're going to be put in areas that have a growing demand but a somewhat underserviced market,” he said.

In early December, Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak called for a more open alcohol market in the province, promising he would end the LCBO and Beer Store monopolies by opening up alcohol sales to private competition.

His plan would allow the sale of wine, beer and liquor right off the shelf of convenience and grocery stores.

Blodgett said the government opposes moving away from LCBO control, because the LCBO both ensures domestic wines and spirits are promoted and provides revenue to the province that goes into government services.

Keeping government control is also the best way to ensure liquor is sold in a socially responsible way, said Blodgett.

“The LCBO has an outstanding track record of social responsibility,” he said.

FACT BOX:

LIQUOR A CASH COW

The Liquor Control Board of Ontario remains a significant source of revenue for the provincial government. Here is the revenue, past and projected, from the LCBO as outlined in the government's Fall Economic Statement.

  • 2009-10: $1.440 billion
  • 2010-11: $1.562 billion
  • 2011-12: $1.659 billion
  • 2012-13: $1.673 billion

By comparison, projected revenue from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation for this fiscal year is $1.737 billion.

SIDEBAR:
PROJECT CALLED A ‘CHANNEL-CHANGER’

Leeds-Grenville's Tory MPP Steve Clark criticized the Liberal government's LCBO Express pilot project as insufficient and a diversion from Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak's white paper calling for more competition in liquor sales.

“You've got 444 municipalities in Ontario and this announcement is for 10 express kiosks a year and a half down the road?” said Clark.

“All they are doing is tinkering around the edges. (The government) used this as sort of a channel-changer.”

Aly Vitunski, Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan's press secretary, said the pilot project was in the works well before Hudak released his paper and was not announced in reaction to it.

“We're responding to customers’ demands. That is what it’s all about, and we're doing it in a socially responsible way,” she said.

Clark said the private sector can handle liquor sales in a socially responsible manner, as demonstrated by the agency stores in Leeds-Grenville.

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