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Reaction mixed for liquor store in Nanaimo's Departure Bay

A pitch for a new Departure Bay liquor store is getting mixed reaction from the neighbourhood’s representatives.

Nanaimo businessman John Wicks is looking to lease space for a liquor store across from Departure Bay beach at the once-controversial 24-hour 7-Eleven. According to Wicks, Nanaimo’s north end is stocked with too many liquor stores and he isn’t happy with his own Black Bear outlet on Doumont Road, prompting his desire to move the retail south.

The city is currently considering his rezoning application and the store is far from being in the bag, but Wicks says he hopes to eventually be able to open in a higher-density area where he can give customers a more convenient option to shop for booze. He would also enhance an “unsightly” and unused portion of 7-Eleven, he said, adding his store would mean progress for Departure Bay.

But not everyone is ready to toast the new addition.

The executive of the Departure Bay Neighbourhood Association – which formed over concerns about 7-Eleven’s 24-hour convenience store more than a decade ago – is divided about an adjoining liquor store. While there are are those who support the accessibility of a village liquor store, others “definitely do not want to see [it],” concerned it would add to litter, noise and parties on the beach, said organization president Karen Hovestad.

Hovestad said the association is also challenged to express an opinion on the issue on behalf of its members.

Advocacy is based on past polls and the neighbourhood plan, but “the question of a liquor store has never come up,” she said.

“[John Wicks] has a beautiful pub and a nice store where he is now. I personally don’t think it would be that big of a deal,” Hovestad said. “But I know there will be concerns.”

The neighbouhood association’s vice-president, Allan Davidson, wants to see Wicks host a public information meeting to allow people in the area to see what’s being proposed and weigh in. He questions the effect liquor sales might have on the  beach in the summertime, including litter, and wonders how the store applicant will deal with it.

“There is a lot of concern and lots of questions ... opening up a liquor store down there is something the neighbourhood has never really contemplated,” he said. “Let’s talk about this.”

The association is considering e-mailing a poll to members this week and while the president expects to hear concerns, she doesn’t believe people will be as hopping mad as they were about a 24-hour convenience store.

The neighbourhood had concerns in 2000 about increased traffic, crime and the ability to enforce the beach’s 11 p.m. curfew with a nearby store open around the clock. But the liquor outlet is “totally different,” she said, pointing out it’s like any other retail store and will likely close by late evening.

The rezoning bid will eventually go to public hearing.

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