Saskatchewan

'It's killing me': Sask. offsale owner says large liquor stores given 'kickbacks'

Policies on so-called liquor “kickbacks” in the province have been called into question.

Minister calls liquor industry 'level playing field'

Offsale owner Larry Bozek says he has to pay more for beer than big box stores in Saskatchewan. (CBC News)

Policies on so-called liquor "kickbacks" in the province have been called into question.

The provincial government says that allowing more private retailers to enter the industry has created more competition.

Gene Makowsky, Minister responsible for Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, calls it a "level playing field," but some business owners disagree.

Larry Bozek runs three hotels in the province, including Southshore Motel Lodge in Wynyard which has an offsale liquor store attached to it.

Bozek said he's tried to carry products with limited time offers, but wholesalers often won't allow it due to the hours or size of his store.  

"Kickbacks to certain customers because you're playing by their rules—this guy gets it, this guys doesn't—it's killing all the small hoteliers, the small offsale places...it's killing me." said Bozek. 

"The guy down the street is selling his stuff for $10 less and I can't match that price because he's getting a kickback and I'm not. It's totally uneven."

Bozek runs three hotels in the province, including Southshore Motel Lodge in Wynyard which has an offsale liquor store attached to it (pictured). (Google Maps)

Bozek said certain products are only available to big box stores, like Sobeys, something he sees as unfair.       

Makowsky said he, personally, wouldn't label the discounts as "kickbacks." He said, the discounts must fall under two promotions that suppliers are allowed to offer in the province of Saskatchewan, being limited time offers or SLGA wholesale price promotions.  

"We've seen retailers being able to sell at differing prices and have specials and be able to compete on price," said Makowsky. "I think it's generally benefited consumers in the province."

Makowsky suggests that smaller, family-owned stores get together to qualify for limited time offers.

"There is some advantage to having more volume to be sold," he said.

Liquor permit sales

Saskatchewan may be welcoming more big-box liquor stores in the near future as a two-year moratorium on the trading and selling of liquor permits expires Oct. 8.

"We are seeing some new stores come into the province of Saskatchewan and also the ability for permittees to see their permit aside from their original existing businesses, particularly in rural Saskatchewan," Makowsky said.

Prior to 2016, offsale stores had to be tied to an existing business. Many in Saskatchewan are connected to hotels or bars.

Makowsky said the government wanted to allow the licenses to be sold rather than returned to the SLGA so that business owners could get a return on their investment.

With files from CBC Radio's Blue Sky