NB Liquor's decision to award a new agency store in Hanwell to a Moncton-based company drew an angry reaction from about 120 people who turned out to a public meeting on Monday night.
The controversy erupted when NB Liquor awarded a contract for a new agency store for Hanwell, a small community just outside of Fredericton.
Power Plus Technology won the right to build the agency store next to the Trans-Canada Highway near Hanwell, along with a gas bar and convenience store.
The Moncton company beat out Scholten’s Convenience Store and Hanwell Village Mart for the agency store.
George Dignam, the chairperson of the Concerned Citizens of Hanwell and a former liquor store employee, said NB Liquor ignored its own guidelines in awarding the agency store to Power Plus Technology.
"The liquor corporation's decision to award our community agency store to a Moncton company is simply wrong," Dignam said during the meeting.
"In all my years with the corporation, I do not recall that a bid from outside the community has ever won the right to come into the community from away."
One of the business owners who lost out on the agency store contract spoke out at Monday night's public meeting.
Chris Scholten, owner of the convenience store, said the NB Liquor’s decision should be overturned because the contract was handed to a business from outside the community.
"It’s supposed to go to a local business, and that’s not what they are doing," he said on Monday night.
Some residents at the meeting said they are concerned the new agency liquor store will pull business away from existing stores in the area.
"It will. It’s happened in other areas and it will happen here," said Calvin Pollard.
MLA defends actions
Tempers flared on Monday when Progressive Conservative MLA Carl Urquhart tried to explain to the public meeting why he was not openly supporting one bid over another.
Jim Jeffrey demanded the local MLA clearly answer whether he would intervene in the situation.
"Step up and say yes or no, you will go and talk to the powers that be to help these people in the village," Jeffrey said.
Urquhart said he had already done that, to which Jeffrey responded, "No you haven’t. You are dancing."
In an interview after the meeting, Urquhart said he is willing to help in the agency store controversy.
"If there’s one thing in that regulation that I can find and they said should be a local established business then I am all over it like a wet blanket," he said.
A meeting has been scheduled on Wednesday with NB Liquor and the Concerned Citizens of Hanwell. The grassroots group wants answers to why a local business was unsuccessful in landing the agency store.
A NB Liquor official said last week that decisions over new agency stores are based on customer traffic, location and site evaluation, among other criteria.