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Why corner stores selling alcohol is a bad idea

Julia Fabian | Fulcrum Staff

Photo illustration by Mico Mazza

I WAS GLAD to see that there were only a few names on the petition I saw this morning at Mac’s—a petition aiming to bring the sale of alcohol into convenience stores in Ontario. According to the petition, corner stores would do a better job at keeping alcohol out of the hands of minors than the LCBO or the Beer Store is currently doing.

At the risk of mixing metaphors, this to me, is a very hard pill to swallow. Firstly, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with LCBO employees’ ability to prevent the sale of alcohol to minors. Far from it—every single time I have made a purchase at the LCBO, I have been IDed. I am 26, and not a young 26 in my opinion. I don’t resent this; rather, I feel comforted that the LCBO cares who gets their hands on booze.

LCBOs are generally large stores, with plenty of staff on the floor at any given time. Those staff are trained thoroughly in checking IDs, recognizing underaged customers, and dealing with intoxicated patrons. Selling alcohol to the right people, and the right people only, is their sole purpose—and they are paid well for it. They are often backed up by plainclothes security guards, which the LCBO has the resources to provide.

This as opposed to a convenience store owner or worker, who has countless other things to deal with, is often alone on the floor (not to mention late at night), and is not always compensated generously.  If faced with unruly, underage, or drunk customers, the average Mac’s cashier will likely have little to no backup and little motivation to enforce the rules.

Sure, a 12-year-old trying to buy beer might not present a threat to the convenience store owner and would likely be easily turned away, but things get complicated when corner store cashiers are also owners who have profits to keep in mind, or when they have no higher-ups or labour unions to be accountable to.

I’m not trying to imply that the guy selling you your bag of chips and chocolate milk is corrupt and untrustworthy; after all, corner stores have been selling tobacco products for a long time and they seem to be doing fine at that. But taking the power out of the hands of a regulated liquor control board seems to me about as smart an idea as taking the police off a case they are the best qualified to solve.

It’s true that some small towns in Ontario are not blessed with having an LCBO a stone’s throw away, and that having liquor sold in convenience stores would make for a lot more…well, convenience. But there’s something to be said for certain products remaining a little hard to get your hands on.

Sure, there is not an LCBO on every corner. But doesn’t it make sense that there are fewer stores selling a controlled substance than there are selling candy? This is booze we’re talking about, not chocolate bars.

For people who want alcohol for the right reasons, it should be a no-brainer where’s the best place to buy it. The LCBO offers a huge selection and a capable and knowledgeable staff; corner stores offer whatever they can fit into their tiny fridges and price tags that reflect the convenience of their products. So beyond being able to boast that you got your carton of milk at the same place as your six-pack of crappy beer, I don’t see any overwhelming benefits from this proposed business decision. I say leave it to the pros.