North

Yellowknife liquor warehouse facing possible closure

The liquor distribution warehouse in Yellowknife could be closing next year, meaning potential changes for how commercial businesses will be able to purchase alcohol in the territory.

N.W.T. Liquor Commission reviewing whether it will renew contract next March

The Northwest Territories Liquor Commission is currently reviewing whether the liquor warehouse meets its operational needs. Its current contract expires on March 31, 2019. (Susan Montoya Bryan/Associated Press)

The liquor distribution warehouse in Yellowknife could be closing next year, meaning potential changes to how businesses purchase alcohol in the territory.

According to the N.W.T.'s Finance Department, the warehouse's contract expires on March 31, 2019, and the Northwest Territories Liquor Commission is currently reviewing whether the warehouse meets its operational needs.

The warehouse previously had a contract from 2008 to 2017 but the department said since that was signed, product availability has increased and there have been improvements to transportation infrastructure.

It extended the contract for one year in order to conduct the review, which is expected to be complete sometime this summer.

One of the options available to the government is closing the warehouse, said the department. That would mean products would be shipped directly to Yellowknife liquor stores as is the case with all other liquor stores in the territory.

Fletcher Stevens, co-owner and operator of the Woodyard Brewhouse and Eatery, said Yellowknife business owners that have commercial accounts with the warehouse have been talking about whether or not it's a good idea to shut it down.

"Honestly, I think it might be a little premature," Stevens said.

Concerns about capacity at local liquor stores

Stevens said if the warehouse does close, businesses will have to order through the city's two liquor stores, and he's concerned the stores just don't have the shelf space.

The warehouse carries a large amount of stock, he said, including for communities north of Hay River. If the territorial draft cannabis legislation is passed, they will also be responsible for dispensing marijuana once it becomes legal.

"If they can't even stock enough stock for the commercial businesses, how are they also going to have marijuana being dispensed out of there and bringing in four to five trucks a week of alcohol? It  just doesn't make sense," said Stevens.

Fletcher Stevens, co-owner and operator of the Woodyard Brewhouse and Eatery, said he's concerned if the liquor warehouse closes, liquor stores won't be able to keep up with commercial demands. (Garrett Hinchey/CBC)

This may especially be an issue, Stevens said, when it comes to storing kegs and the availability of products at Christmas time. 

'We need ... peace of mind'

Stevens added it will be an adjustment for businesses that are accustomed to ordering and picking up alcohol from the warehouse twice a week, to make sure they have adequate inventory.

"For businesses, we need to have sort of the peace of mind that the products that we carry on our shelves are going to be in stock," he said.

Stevens said one benefit could be that, with special orders, businesses won't have to purchase a whole case of product.

Right now, he said, if the warehouse can't stock an item on a regular basis, businesses have to take the chance that they will be able to sell the case, which can be risky with expensive products.

Stevens said he's curious to see what the liquor commission will decide. But, right now, he doesn't think the benefits outweigh the disadvantages of shutting down the warehouse.

"That's kind of what leaves most of us scratching our heads," he said. "What's the whole point of getting rid of this warehouse?"

Calls to the manager of the city's liquor stores were not returned and the owner of the liquor distribution warehouse declined to speak to the CBC on the record.

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