March 29th, 2020

Small town residents getting crack at private booze in Saskatchewan

By Collin Gallant on November 29, 2016.

Four residents of Leader, Sask. are the newest — and among the first — individuals in that province to own a liquor store.

Last week that province awarded 50 licences to sell wine, beer and spirits across Saskatchewan. The move breaks up the Crown retail monopoly putting previously government-owned stores in private hands.

However, new enterprises in towns closest to Medicine Hat are vowing to keep community in mind.

Co-operatives will operate three locations in the near region, while a private ownership group in Leader won the award process with the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority.

“We see it as an opportunity to run it like a family business,” said Dustin Heatcote, one of four partners that put together a winning proposal for the Leader location.

“It might be hard to see a liquor store as a family business, but small towns don’t do well unless they have (business) revenue kicking back into the community.”

He is a town councillor and businessman in the community of about 820 residents, and says keeping local business is key.

Partner Gloria Klub is a casual employee at the current government-owned store and will become the managing partner when the new business sets up over the next year.

Klub’s partner Dwight Hoffman and Heatcote’s wife Beth are also investors.

Shaunavon Co-op will be the retailer there, while Pioneer Co-op will take over liquor sales in Maple Creek and Gull Lake.

“It is certainly an exciting opportunity,” said Pioneer Co-op general manager Stu Dyrland, who is based in Swift Current.

The new business wing will allow the co-operative retailer to improve its services offered, as well as profits which are paid out.

“In a smaller town, there are advantages to having more products to offer because that improves your viability and the community.”

Co-operatives received 14 of the 50 licences announced last week, mostly in smaller locations. Groups involving employees facing layoffs put in winning proposals to win six licences. Major retailer Sobeys won nine and others went to smaller companies or private individuals.

Licensees have until the end of 2017 to open either in the current location if it is won at auction, or in new facilities.

Dyrland said the plan is to erect a new building in Maple Creek to house the outlet, while Pioneer will expand its Gull Lake operation to accommodate sales.

Between now and opening day his managers will also familiarize themselves with the basics of the business that previously existed as a crown corporation.

Federated Co-op is based in Saskatchewan, but oversees numerous local co-ops in Alberta, including South Country Co-op, which has sold liquor for more than a decade.

In Leader, the group is planning to open in a new location, and could be open for business before summer, said Heatcoat.

As for changes to operations, hours or the stock brought in, Heatcoat said there are some preliminary ideas.

“Business is about listening to customers,” said Heatcote.

“We have some idea (about changes), but you have to give the people what they want.”

He said he would like to offer some sort of community partnership to help show residents the value of local buying.

Those shoppers are often drawn to Medicine Hat for excursions, or to Kindersley, about an hour’s drive north of Leader, where Sobeys will open a store next year.

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