by Sara Wong, Peak Associate
On September 8, Dr. Bonnie Henry introduced a new liquor sales rule that prohibits all bars, restaurants, and pubs from selling alcohol after 10 p.m. While I’m relieved to see that this has helped put an end to illicit outdoor gatherings like the Granville Street party or the Third Beach drum circle, I’m not impressed with the clear lack of consideration in how this new liquor sales rule is affecting small, local businesses, which are already struggling to stay afloat.
Whether you’re in the downtown core or elsewhere in Metro Vancouver, you’ll find that many establishments are open past 10 p.m., especially on Fridays and weekends. For bars and pubs, who cater to a late night, alcohol-enthusiastic crowd, the province’s latest public health order is like twisting a knife into a wound that’s already bleeding. These places can continue to sell food, but not all bars are equipped with a kitchen. Also, who goes to a bar or a pub solely for the food?
Essentially, this new liquor sales rule is pushing more bars and pubs into permanent closure, one example being The Metropole Community Pub in Gastown, which announced it was shutting down the day after Dr. Bonnie Henry’s briefing of the updated restrictions. Prior to The Metropole’s closure, they had been operating at half capacity in accordance to COVID-19 safety measures; and before that (when operations were limited to takeout only) they were selling off their liquor supply and offering $2 hot dogs in a fight to stay alive. According to a Global News article, The Metropole’s lease was more than $30,000 per month.
Restaurants are also suffering from the changes to the liquor-selling policy, for although they can continue to sell food past 10 p.m., there’s a lot of profit being lost with alcohol sales forcibly decreasing. Not to mention, profit margins are already tight. Like bars and pubs, restaurants can only serve at half capacity at the moment; and once you account the costs of product, rent, insurance, employees’ salaries, and whatever the business had to pay for COVID-19 safety accessories like plexiglass screens, masks, and hand sanitizer bottles, it’s a miracle if a restaurant is able to break even at this point. In another Global News article, the CEO of the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association, Ian Tostenson, reports that “for the most part, restaurants will be able to adapt to the changes — as long as they’re temporary. But [ . . . ] if they drag on, they could be fatal to many independent businesses.”
Government officials in the province, including Dr. Henry, have encouraged people to support the local economy during this pandemic, so in my view the new liquor sales rule they’ve imposed is hypocritical and standing by this decision is unacceptable. The restaurant and bar industries are drivers in the “support local” movement. In BC, restaurants employ more than 180,000 people and in these establishments, the farm to table concept is widely used. Furthermore, small businesses are what add character to a neighbourhood (there’s a reason why Commercial Drive is known as Little Italy, Main Street attracts hipsters, and so forth). My point being, losing more local bars, restaurants, and pubs — which is what the 10 p.m. alcohol-selling cutoff is doing — will not only take a toll on the economy, it will affect the job and financial stability of many British Columbians, result in significantly less business for industries connected to hospitality — such as fishing and agriculture — and alter community outlooks. Talk about living up to our “no fun city” reputation there.
Also, if the thought behind the new liquor sales rule was that it would discourage young people from partying in a non-safe manner during the COVID-19 pandemic, then the health ministry has one too many naive persons working for them. Since September 8th, I’ve seen an increase in news coverage across the province on indoor parties being busted by local police. Large gatherings have simply moved from being held in public spaces to taking place inside private residences, which is even more dangerous. What is plainly obvious from these instances is that businesses are not the majority at fault for a lack of social distancing and potential “super spread” of COVID-19, yet they’re the ones being punished for it.
In response to the change in liquor selling regulations, the Business Technical Advisory Panel on Liquor Policy has sent a letter to Dr. Bonnie Henry, Premier John Horgan, and others asking for a revision to the latest rule around alcohol sales. They want bars, restaurants, and pubs to be allowed to sell booze until midnight as opposed to 10 p.m. I believe this is a fair request and that the government should take it under serious consideration, instead of countering with a standard bureaucratic statement that the current measures in place are for the greater good of everyone; because, evidently, they are not.