Lottery will determine which B.C. grocery stores can sell liquor

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British Columbia is tip-toeing closer to allowing alcohol sales in grocery stores, and as part of the process, the government has announced an upcoming lottery for liquor stores to determine who gets to move where and when.

Liquor stores, whether private or B.C., wishing to relocate, whether to new communities or into existing grocery stores, will be given from February 27 to March 27 to apply for relocation, explains the Ministry of Justice.

BC Liquor Store Liquor Laws Grocery Stores

SEE ALSO: Alcohol sales "coming" to B.C. grocery stores in spring 2015

All the applications will be pooled and placed in a lottery for a random draw to determine the stores’ position in a queue for moving.

The Ministry of Justice explains the nuances of the lottery:

The lottery system is set up to ensure fairness – each applicant will be given an equal chance at qualifying to relocate, understanding that the one kilometre rule will continue to play a large role in the assessment and approval of applications. If more than one store wants to relocate its licence within the same one kilometre radius, the first applicant chosen is given priority.

The reason there is a need for stores to move locations and licences is because of what is known as the “one kilometre rule.” This rule means new liquor retailers within a one kilometre radius of existing public or private liquor stores are not permitted, in order to prevent over-saturation of the market. However, stores adjoining a grocery store can “move in” by knocking down a wall in order to become a “store-in-store” operation.

Confused? There have definitely been a lot of fine points to keep up with regarding this change in law over the past few months. The Ministry of Justice thoughtfully provided some “quick facts” about the lottery and the changing laws, which may be helpful:

  • The lottery approach, developed with guidelines and input from the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch, was adopted to create the same starting line for all licensees, understanding that all liquor stores interested in relocating will need to abide by the one kilometre rule and local government bylaws.
  • On April 1, 2015, to coincide and support the addition of liquor in grocery stores:
  • The one kilometre distance criteria ensuring a minimum distance between relocating private liquor stores will be maintained and extended to include BC Liquor Stores.
  • The five kilometre rule restricting private liquor stores from relocating outside of their local jurisdiction will be repealed.
  • Following further consultations with industry, to be eligible to sell liquor under either grocery model, a grocery store must sell at least 70% food-related products. This has been adjusted from the original estimate of 75%. Once liquor store sales are added, at least 50% of sales must continue to be food-related products.
  • Come April 1, 2015, grocery stores will have the opportunity to co-brand with liquor or wine stores as long as they share the same ownership. For example, if it owns a liquor licence already, ABC Foods can open an ABC Foods Liquor Store, regardless of whether it is within their grocery store.
  • There will be no minimum size requirement for liquor retail stores within grocery stores.
  • Liquor stores within grocery stores must be physically separated from the rest of the grocery store with controlled access and separate cash tills.
  • One-cart shopping will be permitted – customers will be allowed to move freely with their cart between the grocery and liquor stores.

The bottom line is, British Columbians will be able to purchase liquor at some grocery stores as soon as April 1. The where part is what remains to be determined.

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Lindsay William-Ross Lindsay is a Senior Editor at Vancity Buzz, and currently runs the site's Food section. A fourth generation Vancouverite, she spent the last two decades in Los Angeles, where she was EIC of the city's top blog, earned her MA, attended culinary school, and was an English professor (among other things). Lindsay's first published piece was December 1980 in The Province; it was her letter to Santa. E-mail: lindsay@vancitybuzz.com
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