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Grocery stores OK’d to sell beer

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TORONTO—Ontarians may be able to buy beer at 60 grocery stores—from multinational big box stores to small, independent grocerS—across the province by the end of the year.

The Liberal government announced 13 grocery stores and chains that were chosen to sell beer in the first round of grocery beer sales that ultimately will be expanded to up to 450 outlets.

The selected retailers now must apply to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario for licences in specific locations, then have shelf space and social responsibility practices for selling alcohol in place.

The government hopes that will happen by year’s end.

Finance minister Charles Sousa wouldn’t say at this stage of the process where precisely the stores are located, but noted every region of the province is represented.

Ontario previously announced there would be 25 in the Greater Toronto Area, 16 in western Ontario, 13 in the eastern reaches of the province, and six in the north—split between large and small grocers.

Though mega chains such as Walmart and Loblaw were among the winning bidders, Sousa said he was surprised to see how many small, independent grocers applied.

“We didn’t anticipate having as much interest by the independents as there was, and they got more distribution, more allocation,” he noted.

Of the 60 licences, 12 were reserved for small grocers and larger ones could get up to 48, but Sousa wouldn’t divulge the final breakdown.

He also wouldn’t say, until the AGCO process is complete, how much money the government is getting from those licences.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath said she wants to make sure Ontario is not losing out on revenue due to the licensing, and that stable, good-paying jobs such as those at The Beer Store aren’t being replaced by Walmart-type ones.

“We want to make sure that we don’t simply bring more precarious work into Ontario,” she stressed.

“Walmart jobs for us are not a good replacement for well-paying, decent jobs in that sector right now,” Horwath argued.

A 10-year agreement between the government and foreign-owned Brewers Retail, which owns 447 Beer Store outlets, will keep the same prices wherever beer is sold.

The Beer Store has enjoyed a virtual monopoly on retailing beer in Ontario since prohibition was repealed nearly 90 years ago.

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