Clearly, I’m among those who feel that the province’s beverage alcohol retail system needs modernizing.
You’d think then, that I’d be on board with recent initiatives from the Ontario Convenience Stores Association (OCSA) to lobby the province to let them sell booze.
Well I’m definitely not. Booze in convenience stores is a dumb idea.
In fact, allowing convenience stores to sell alcohol will simply give us more of the same shitty system we already have, just in more locations. And more of the same isn’t better, it’s worse.
Don’t get me wrong. There are valid points among the OCSA’s pitch. First, there’s the social responsibility angle. I agree with the province that the current system does much to ensure public safety, but convenience stores have in fact shown that they ID customers for lotto and smokes more routinely than The Beer Store and LCBO ID for booze. Convenience stores have much more to lose if they fuck up their ability to sell those profitable items so you can bet they’re careful about playing by the rules. You’ll get no argument there from me that the convenience stores could sell alcohol responsibly. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to let them.
I also agree with the OSCA’s “merchandise” argument. They argue that, by allowing The Beer Store to sell items like lighters, barbeque accessories, and patio furniture, the government is allowing The Beer Store to infringe on convenience store jurisdiction and thus further expand their monopoly.
I agree. In fact, I think The Beer Store is a shady enterprise from top to bottom and if the OCSA shows me a petition to demand that Molson-Coors, AB InBev, and Sapporo close down all Beer Stores tomorrow, I’ll be the first fucker to sign it. But that doesn’t mean I agree with selling booze in convenience stores.
And here’s why: allowing convenience stores to sell alcohol does absolutely nothing to improve the current retail system for craft breweries and distilleries.
Sure, OSCA CEO David Bryans has said they’ll dedicate 30 per cent of their beverage shelf space to Ontario wines and craft beers, but even if they keep that promise, is that really going to improve the current system?
The current system needs revamping because it allows the biggest brewers and the biggest distillers and the biggest distributors of liquor to call all the shots because they’ve got vast sums of money with which to lobby the government.
The current system needs revamping because there is a disproportionate amount of big companies taking up shelf space in the stores that currently sell alcohol.
Does anyone really believe for a second that opening retail alcohol sales to private companies (who are literally only motivated by profit) will change that?
Does anyone truly think that Labatt’s, Molson, Jim Beam, and Diageo won’t find a way to throw their financial weight around and then simply dominate a new market?
The suggestion that they’d sell 30% Ontario products is novel, but when you think of the 7-Eleven, Rabba, Mac’s, Petro-Canada, Imperial Oil, and Canadian Tire (the companies comprising the OSCA), do you picture local, artisinal, and craft products lining their shelves? Probably not. In fact, you probably picture junk food, big brand names, and cheaply made items that maximize profits. And if you think they’ll take a different approach when it comes to beer, then you’re fucking kidding yourself. Even if they stick to the “30% Ontario” promise, there are plenty of shitty boozemakers technically brewing and distilling right here in Ontario whom I’d sure would be happy to to pay for the right tell sell their products at more stores.
Should convenience stores be allowed to sell alcohol, it’s really not that hard to imagine press releases like “Mac’s Announces Exciting Partnership with Steelback” or “Chill Out This Summer with The New Exclusive Polar Ice Slurpee.” The main issue those who care about fairness in alcohol sales should be concerned about is the continued ability for big companies to buy their way into markets–beit the stores they own outright, the bar taps they get with payoffs, or, in this case, the inevitability that a private company will look after its bottom line.
As long as there is a way for those with the most money to establish a monopoly, they will establish a monopoly. The OSCA solution looks good on paper, but it’s not the answer. Convenient shit is still shit.