The Ponteix Liquor Store is one of four locations where the province will be converting existing liquor stores to rural franchises.
The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority noted that Ponteix, Langenburg, Ituna and Kerrobert will undergo the change before the summer months.
"Three of these stores have high operating costs and the Kerrobert store building is 94 years old and quickly nearing the end of its useful life,” Minister responsible for SLGA Donna Harpauer stated in a press release. “Converting these locations to rural franchises, rather than closure, will ensure these communities continue to have access to a full line of alcohol products at SLGA prices.”
In Saskatchewan, there are currently approximately 190 rural franchises that operate in businesses such as grocery stores, insurance agencies, convenience stores, and pharmacies. The rural franchises locations sell alcohol on behalf of SLGA, at SLGA prices.
A total of four full time and eight part-time SLGA employees (6.6 Full Time Equivalents) will be affected by the conversions. These employees will have options outlined under their collective agreement, which may include bumping rights to other SLGA liquor stores.
The franchise opportunities for these four locations will be advertised in newspapers beginning next week, and interested businesses will have until May 8 to apply. Applicants will be evaluated on factors such as business experience, financial viability, location, hours of operation and type of business.
“We hope to have these new franchises in place and operating sometime this summer,” Harpauer said. “SLGA’s stores will continue to serve these communities in the interim.”
The Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union was quick to denounce the decision as another blow to rural communities that rely on public services and public service jobs to meet local needs and keep local economies vibrant.
“Losing good jobs hurts small towns and rural communities,” says SGEU President Bob Bymoen. "These staff members live and work in these communities. They have families, children who attend local schools, keeping enrolments up. They support local businesses, pay local taxes, and are part of the recreational and social life of those towns.”
SGEU argues that research shows that public service jobs in rural Saskatchewan have a positive impact on the local economy. For every two public service jobs in rural Saskatchewan, a third spin-off job is created.
“The staff at SLGA liquor stores are trained professionals who are experienced in ensuring that liquor is sold in a socially-responsible manner. SLGA is committed to checking the ID of anyone who appears to be 25 years of age or less, to reduce the incidence of underage drinking.
“The government is licensing four new private liquor stores in Regina and Saskatoon, and now is closing four SLGA stores in rural Saskatchewan. This is the shift from public to private liquor sales we have been expressing concerns about for years,” according to Bymoen. “It is an ill-conceived strategy that puts private profit ahead of the needs of families and communities.”
Last year, public liquor stores generated $232 million in net revenue for Saskatchewan.
“Closing the liquor stores in Langenburg, Ituna, Ponteix and Kerrobert undermines the well-being and economic security of those towns and surrounding rural areas. We ask the government to reconsider this decision for the good of the families and communities affected,” Bymoen added.