No spirit for wines in Nanaimo grocery stores

NANAIMO - Save-On-Foods' Parksville grocery store has wine section, but company says no wine sales in works for Nanaimo locations.

Parksville has popped the cork for wine sales in grocery stores on Vancouver Island, but don’t expect to scan vintages through Nanaimo’s grocer checkout lines any time soon.

The Save-On-Foods Parksville store held its grand opening for B.C. VQA wine sales July 8 and became the first Island grocery store to sell B.C.-made wines since the B.C. government amended liquor laws in 2014.

That store now stocks wine from more than 150 B.C. wineries, but Save-On-Foods is unlikely to follow with a ‘wine store’ in Nanaimo, according to Steve Moriarty, Overwaitea Food Group’s director of Wines of British Columbia at Save-On-Foods.

“There are only so many licences available in the province and you have to buy an existing business and then transfer that existing operation into your grocery store,” Moriarty said.

The government made about 57 such licences available for all of B.C.

Moriarty went on to say the process for getting wine sales in Parksville was relatively simple compared to the situation in Nanaimo.

“I’m not saying the City of Nanaimo hasn’t welcomed us with open arms, but … there’s some challenges finding the right location that fits with the city’s business plans,” he said.

As Nanaimo regulations stand now, any grocery store that wants to sell wine, sake and cider in Nanaimo must meet certain criteria to apply for rezoning to do so.

When city council discussed the issue in October there were 12 retailers city staff believed could meet criteria to be eligible to rezone.

Council at the time voted to review Nanaimo’s 12-year-old liquor control strategy, have city staff add the definition of wine in grocery stores to its bylaw, and create criteria for future rezoning applications to better reflect new provincial rules, but has not met to follow up on the issue since.

“Council’s direction, when they dealt with this issue, was to create a specific use for a wine store, so any property in the city – any grocery store – would need to apply for that rezoning to allow for a wine store,” said Dale Lindsay, city director of community development.

Moriarty said Save-On-Foods is still hopeful to someday sell wine from a Nanaimo store.

“I don’t expect anything in the very near future. This would probably be a bit more of a long-term opportunity, but at this time we don’t have anything immediately planned for Nanaimo,” Moriarty said.