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Later Last Calls and Grocery Stores, Again

clockfaceSo after the unprecedented decision to allow bars to open at 4:30 am to facilitate early morning hockey watching, apparently a couple of Alberta ministers took to the Twitterverse to opine that later closing times and liquor in grocery stores were possibilities (you can read the Journal article about it here). Now, I actually think there is not much to this little bit of trial ballooning, just a couple of tweet-happy MLAs trying to rebuild some populist points lost over the past couple years of government goofiness.

But the timing is interesting, for two reasons. One, it makes me look rather prescient for my post two weeks back batting around the idea of beer in grocery stores (find it here). Second, since the AGLC liquor policy review was wrapped up a scant two months ago (see my post on it here) it seems weird the two ministers would be talking about starting up another one. Or maybe they have decided that liquor policy should be a perpetual motion machine (except on mark up rates, which are idling at the starting block).

However, it gives me a chance to weight in once again with my two bits. One should never turn down such opportunities.

On the issue of later closing times I am indifferent. I suspect there is a segment of the population that will appreciate an extra hour or two to drink up, but most craft beer drinkers are in bed long before that hour. Besides I find the “it will help access to taxis” argument unbelievably specious. If there aren’t enough cabs at 3 am, tell me why there will be enough at 4?

I understand the main argument is that the leavers will be more staggered, allowing the same number of cabbies to handle more passengers. But I don’t buy it. The folks hailing cabs at three are doing so because the bar is closed. If the bar is open an hour later, most of them will stay out an hour longer. When you are up at three, what difference does four make. It is not like you are getting up for work in the morning, or have young kids who will be thrashing about the house at 7. Those arguments make no attempt to understand WHO it is that is still in the bars at that time.

By the way, as an aside, I find it interesting all the media are talking about a 2 am closing time. That is actually the legally mandated time when serving must stop. Bars usually stay open another hour before actually closing. Not that I have experienced that first hand in a few years…

As I say, I couldn’t care less – I am in bed at that time no matter what. I am too old for 3 am nights on the town. I just am calling out the arguments of those in favour. Later closings will mean more drinking. Period. Which is fine as long as no one drives home. Just don’t try to snow us by saying it will be safer and good for cab drivers, because it won’t do anything of the sorts.

And then there is sales in grocery stores. I am not going to re-tread my arguments from the previous post. However, I had a conversation with a beer industry guy the other day about this, and they made a point I hadn’t really thought about. Most of the big grocery chains – Superstore, Sobey’s, Save-On, Coop – have constructed liquor stores on their property already. If Alberta allowed beer in grocery stores, how much would really change? Maybe for greenfield (brand new construction) stores, they might include the liquor in the main stores. But for existing stores they are not going to tear down the stand-alone spaces and cram liquor into space currently devoted to something else. Especially not since they have customers trained now to make two stops.

So what is the point of talking about beer in grocery stores? In Alberta, anyway, we are pretty damned close already. Sure, there is convenience stores, but as I mention in the earlier post, that hardly sounds like a way improve the selection of craft beer in the province.

Overall I think it was just some post-gold medal euphoria talking and not much is going to change soon.

3 comments to Later Last Calls and Grocery Stores, Again

  • Ernie

    I think the “it will help access to taxis” argument is based on the idea that the later you keep the bars open, the more people will leave of their own volition rather than being all forced out at the same time. For example, many people might choose to leave at three am while others will stay as long as they can, therefore the cabs get get the 3 am crowd home and be back it time to pick up the 4 am crowd. There won’t be more taxis physically, but there use will be spaced out to service more people when they actually need it. There are some people that will simply stay as long as they can because they can, while others will have a certain personal cut-off time.

    Whether that actually plays out in practice is a different question, but I get the argument. But then you could also argue that bars should be allowed to serve 24 hours a day, so there will never be a manufactured demand at any time of the night.

  • I think more to the point is your aside about the mark-up rates. It is easy to score cheap political points by suggesting longer opening hours (although I have no idea what group of voters this appeals to, as opposed to water-cooler talkers who couldn’t be bothered to find the inside of a polling booth)it is much harder to make well considered and difficult decisions that balance revenue, business growth, inter-provincial trade and existing vested interests. We all saw how nuanced Perfect Hair Tom can be when he got his hands on the AUPE negotiations, do we really want that guy making major decisions that will affect the craft beer industry?

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