Private liquor stores across Metro Vancouver say recent changes to B.C.'s liquor laws give government stores unfair advantages and could potentially run private retailers out of business.
"There's a lot of frustration in the industry right now because they feel like we've all worked together over the past 20 years to try and build a thriving liquor industry, but some things that are happening are just not fair at the moment," said Jeff Guignard, the executive director the Alliance of Beverage Licensees.
As of April 1, a number of incremental changes to the B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Act have come into effect across the province. For example, government stores can now match the hours of private stores — meaning they are allowed to open on Sundays and holidays — and they can sell chilled beer and wine.
Guignard says that kind of convenience and product selection has historically been the exclusive domain of private liquor stores. Now he says the government is competing against them and it's hurting private retailers' bottom lines.
"The first Good Friday [government] liquor stores were open, one of our average stores lost between 25 and 45 per cent of their revenue that day. On Sundays, it's somewhere between 25 and 30 per cent. I have some members who tell me their sales are down 10 to 15 per cent for the entire month of April," he said.
"The government keeps talking about a level playing field. All they've really done is leveled the first couple of yards of the playing field, and then they've moved the goal posts in their favour as they go along."
'Make your daughter pick a different wine'
Legacy Liquor Store brand manager Darryl Lamb says sales at his store haven't really been affected by the new liquor law changes yet. However, he agrees they unfairly favour the government.
"When we started the liquor review process, the idea was there was going to be a leveling of the playing field. Well, private liquor stores are still forbidden from doing a lot of the stuff that the public liquor stores have," he said.
"We can't sell the special occasion licenses. So if your favourite wine is available at a private retailer and not available at the government retailer, too bad, make your daughter pick a different wine for her wedding."
Lamb also says that unlike government retailers, private liquor retailers still cannot sell their products to restaurants.
"We have over 300 items that no other store stocks. They are exclusive to Legacy. And so, if you're a restaurant and you want to get one of Legacy's single malt whiskies, too bad, buy the usual product off the government store."
Guignard and Lamb say they welcome more competition within the industry, but only if everyone is playing by the same rules.
'Too early to speculate' on liquor landscape
B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said on Tuesday it's too early to speculate what impact the April 1 changes will have on the overall liquor landscape in the province.
"The end goal is to increase competition in the market, which is something that will benefit British Columbians," Anton said in an emailed statement.
"B.C. Liquor Stores are now expected to compete with private liquor retailers and, as such, have been given a more equitable set of rules to follow, placing them at the same starting line as their competitors."
Anton also said the "1 kilometre rule" is being applied — meaning full-service government and private liquor stores have to be at least one kilometre apart — in order to protect private retailers.
The province has said it will review any requests for policy changes once a year.