Suburban consumers in Saskatoon and Regina will soon have more options when it comes to buying liquor.

The province has given the green light to Sobeys and Co-Op to build two privately-owned liquor stores in Saskatoon, one for each company. The two liquor stores will be across the parking lot from new grocery or fuel locations.

The government has also approved two standalone liquor stores for Regina. Willow Park Wine & Spirits will expand into the new subdivision Harbour Landing. Sobeys will open a liquor store a few blocks away from its existing grocery store on Rochdale Boulevard.

Last year, the province said it would no longer build any of its own liquor stores. A number of private retailers then submitted proposals to Saskatchewan's Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA).

An 'upscale' feel

Saskatoon Co-Op says it's aiming for an upscale feel in its liquor store, which will be located in Blairmore, on the west side of the city.

"Certainly we're going to offer an experience different than what people are used to," said Grant Wicks, Saskatoon Co-Op's general manager. "They can learn about the various wines and liquors and beers from around the world, and we think it can be fun and educational for people."

Alberta has close to 40 Co-Op liquor stores. In rural Saskatchewan, 24 small Co-Ops are designated liquor retailers in their communities. The Saskatoon Co-Op liquor store in Blairmore is scheduled to open this winter.

Sobeys also sells liquor in Alberta. It plans to open its grocery and liquor outlets on Regina's Rochdale Boulevard, and near a new grocery store set for Preston Avenue in Stonebridge sometime next summer, according to western vice-president, Brent Newman.

"The size of the store really allows us to have a wider breadth of products and, looking at the growth trends out there, wine is consumed more frequently than any other beverage. People are switching to wine. We can expand on that," said Newman.

Not picking winners and losers

After naming the two grocery chains that would sell liquor in Saskatoon, the minister responsible told reporters the government is not picking winners and losers.

"We put out an RFP

[request for proposals]," Donna Harpauer said Tuesday. "That's part of an open tendering process that we have for any project."

"This is all based on growth, on market demand and population demand," she added. "It's not just randomly putting stores wherever as many as anyone wants." She said any future tenders would be based on population growth.

Harpauer said she is satisfied both grocers have adequate security plans in place for all the new liquor stores. Prices will be largely determined by the grocery chains, she said.

Unlike Alberta, where liquor sales were deregulated in 1993, Saskatchewan still sets a minimum price for all beer, wine and spirits. That price is based on the alcohol content in the beverage.

"But from there, like any private business they can set whatever prices they want," said Harpauer.

Union critical of new stores

The union that represents government workers in Saskatchewan, the SGEU, issued a news release Tuesday, criticizing the move to open four private liquor stores, calling it "bad news" for taxpayers.

"Profits from [government-run] SLGA stores help fund schools, hospitals, roads, long-term care homes, parks, public safety and much more," Bob Bymoen, the president of SGEU said in the release. According to the union, SLGA stores are run efficiently and that leads to "maximum profits" for the government.

Hotels association defends private liquor sales

The Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association issues a news release Tuesday defending the use of private enterprise to sell alcohol, noting that many members — with off-sale outlets — make a positive contribution to the province.

"Private retailers are good corporate citizens who pay their taxes, employ staff and make generous contributions to their community," Tom Mullin, president of the SHHA, said in the release. "In many cases, hotels are the main gathering point in a community and their owners volunteer their time and energies to support worthwhile local initiatives."

Mullin also noted that private sellers of alcohol are strictly regulated when it comes to pricing of alcohol, and said their profit margins are lower, compared to the margins of SLGA stores.