A curious thing happened on my way to a wedding in Ball’s Falls. On the drive, in amongst wine country, was a convenience store with a little sign outside that said it was an LCBO agency. I was shocked. Was there alcohol being sold inside, by the milk and chips? Turns out there was, as the store was part of the LCBO Agency Store Program. Perhaps this is no surprise to those of you who spend a lot of time outside of urban areas, but this was the first time I had heard of alcohol being sold out of a convenience store in Ontario.
The basic idea of the program is to give small towns access to liquor when they are too small to support a full LCBO. Store owners can apply to become an agency store, but only one is allowed per town. They have to appease the LCBO overlords and demonstrate that they can run a de facto liquor store. (For example, any alcohol should be inaccessible to the public when the store is open but LCBOs are closed, like at midnight or on holidays.) Obviously everything sold must still be in the LCBO system, but this is still some precedent for an expansion away from the LCBO monopoly.
Of course, it would be curious to see how much choice the stores have in terms of what they can stock. The info page only goes as far to say that, “The Operator must offer customers a representative selection of spirits, wine and imported
and domestic beer products, building on a core listing of brands.” (My assumption is that the LCBO tells you what the core brands are.) But theoretically an agency store could stock the core brands, then whatever other products – like all the craft beer in the LCBO, making it like an OCB store but still bypassing all the NAFTA crap. Though this would have to be in a town small enough that it doesn’t have an LCBO, where craft beer might be a tough sell. But it could theoretically happen.
Maybe this isn’t news to most people, but it is nice to find a little hole in the LCBO system that could maybe one day allow for change in the way we buy beer, wine and spirits. It’s obvious that a highly regulated system is still the way forward, but hopefully there will be some loosening in the coming years as the Liberal government looks into our kooky liquor laws.