Business owners frustrated at inaction over agency liquor license

Economic times are tough this winter, throughout the South Okanagan and Similkameen - and for one small business operator in Kaleden, they aren’t being made any easier by the province.

Sukhuinder and Khushkismet Grewal

Sukhuinder and Khushkismet Grewal

Economic times are tough this winter, throughout the South Okanagan and Similkameen – and for one small business operator in Kaleden, they aren’t being made any easier by the province.

Khushkismet Grewal and his wife Sukhuinder bought the Lakeview General Store in Kaleden ( formerly the Kaleden General Store) in October, 2010, much to the relief of the 1,300 residents of the small community. Over the past three years, they had seen their small but viable general store fall into decline after being purchased by a couple of Lower Mainland opportunists looking to make a quick buck in real estate. After a couple of years of questionable and incompetent operation, the store faced foreclosure and was eventually acquired by an investor who had bought into the business during its decline.

As a result of the foreclosure, the store lost its licence to sell alcohol. Ask anyone operating a general store today and they will most likely tell you that being a liquor agency is a key element to survival in the business these days. It is especially true for a bedroom community like Kaleden, where most residents make a daily commute to another community to work.

The Grewals were assured at the time of purchase by the seller that they would acquire their licence “within a week or two.”

A petition, initiated by the seller, that had acquired more than 400 signatures from the small community in favour of having the general store’s license to sell alcohol reinstated, had been sent to the province and local MLA John Slater had been made aware of the need for a licence in order for the business to continue successfully.

Close to four months later, the Grewals are finding themselves increasingly frustrated by a lack of commitment on the part of the province to reinstate the licence.

“Every day it’s a new story,” Khushkismet said of his frequent communications with MLA Slater.. “He’s on holidays, or some other excuse. It seems like every customer I have is asking me when I am going to get the license. I have older customers – and there are many in Kaleden – who don’t want to drive, or are not able to- who would like to be able to get wine, liquor or beer here – this is a service the village can really use.”

“We have been working with the owners – we were hoping to have this matter resolved before Christmas,” MLA for Boundary- Similkameen Jihn Slater told the Review last Monday.

“This is a brutal one. In 2004, changes to the liquor act stipulated no new licenses within 10 kilometres of existing ones… the thing about Kaleden is, here is a community of 1,300 people that have to drive to Okanagan Falls or Penticton for alcohol. It’s ludicrous.”

Slater told the Review that his office had made the pitch to reissue Kaleden’s license, but agency staff tend to interpret to the letter of the law.

“I explained the situation to agency staff – my office will be going back next week to find out from Rich Coleman (Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, also responsible for liquor licensing) what can be done. It won’t take a big amendment to the law, perhaps a grandfather clause can work.

We’re not giving up.”

Grewal noted that his store is completely equipped to sell alcohol – all his coolers and shelves are in place, waiting for the opportunity to be stocked. Until that happens, a portion of his store sits underutilized, costing him customers – and cash. He noted that he continues to have customers come in offering to sign the petition, or call the local MLA on his behalf.Grewal himself continues to be in constant contact with MLA Slater, as well as Rich Coleman.

“Every village in the Okanagan and Similkameen has a licensed outlet,” Grewal observed. “Okanagan Falls has three outlets alone ( two agency outlets and a liquor outlet attached to the Okanagan Falls Hotel) – why shouldn’t Kaleden?” He pointed out further that with the newer, stricter drinking driving laws in effect, it doesn’t make sense for the province to force Kaledenites to drive to a liquor store when there was already a historical precedent for a licensed outlet in the village.

An Email sent by the Review to Rich Coleman’s office remained unanswered at press time.