Wine shops gearing up for increased demand should LCBO stores close in event of strike

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Published June 28, 2024 at 1:10 pm

Anthony Urciuoli/hamilton.insauga.com photo
White wine stock photo - Valeria Boltneva

With LCBO workers in strike position and store closures a possibility, other wine shops are preparing for an influx in demand from customers who might–temporarily, at least–lose access to their local liquor store. 

“Wine Rack will not be affected, as we’re a separate entity from the LCBO,” Mark Wasserman, a Wine Rack representative, told insauga.com. 

“We deliver directly from our own warehouses to our stores, and we’re preparing for an uptick in consumer demand.”

Wine Rack is one alcohol merchant preparing to increase its capacity to serve consumers in the event of a strike. Should the union representing Liquor Control Board of Ontario workers decide to strike on July 5, shoppers can expect store closures, followed by significantly reduced shopping hours at a limited number of locations. 

Although workers are not yet on strike, Wasserman says Wine Rack, the retail division of Arterra Wines Canada, has been busy implementing additional measures to accommodate shoppers who might temporarily lose access to brick-and-mortar LCBO locations.

Should workers strike, all LCBO retail stores will close for 14 days, with just 30 stores reopening three days a week (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) with limited hours in effect. Sales will also be capped in the event of a strike. However, the company’s wholesale operations will not be impacted, meaning bars, restaurants, wineries, breweries, distilleries and some other retailers will continue to receive stock. 

That said, store closures could put pressure on other wine merchants who will have to scale up to meet demand. 

“We have additional measures in place in the event of increased consumer demand. We’ve optimized same-day delivery capabilities on our website and we’re available on SkipTheDishes, UberEats and DoorDash. Those are options for consumers to buy wine and cider from our stores,” Wasserman says. 

Wine Rack, which is also keeping about 80 of its more than 160 locations open on Canada Day, is preparing by ordering more inventory and preparing staff to accommodate more customers. While the retailer does not offer as broad a selection of wines and ciders as the LCBO, it does carry well-known VQA brands such as Jackson Triggs, Sandbanks and Inniskillin. It also carries ciders, icewine, spritzers and cream liqueurs. 

“We’ve been discussing this for a few weeks now, so all our teams are ensuring we’re in great stock positions. We’ve heavied up on our top-selling skews, knowing there will be velocity on those. Wine merchants are in store, ready to go. We’ve spent a lot of time on scheduling to ensure we have fully staffed stores with extended hours heading into the long weekend,” Wasserman says. 

While the retailer is probably best known for its selection of Ontario brands, it also offers wines made with a blend of Canadian and international grapes. One popular vino is its Bask brand, which boasts zero sugar and comes in red, white and rose varieties. 

As for what’s prompting possible strike action, LCBO workers are seeking wage increases and more full-time jobs, saying part-time roles have become 70 per cent of their workforce. Last week, the union said 97 per cent of participating LCBO workers voted in favour of a strike.

Earlier this year, Colleen MacLeod, chair of the OPSEU Liquor Board Employees Division, told insauga.com that workers are concerned about privatization and worry the 2026 roll-out of alcohol in all grocery and convenience stores could spell the end of the LCBO as Ontarians know it. 

She also said jobs typically carried out by LCBO workers have been gradually disappearing, with the province outsourcing the company’s data centre and print shop, as well as online order fulfillment.

While MacLeod and other OPSEU members are concerned about privatization, the government has been adamant that no such plan is in the works. 

“We will not be privatizing the LCBO. The LCBO will continue to be a publicly owned retailer providing choice and convenience for consumers, as well as operating as the exclusive wholesaler for all retail, bars and restaurants selling alcohol and spirits,” Colin Blachar, a press secretary with the Ministry of Finance, told insauga.com in an email in March. 

When asked if he’s concerned about the impact the roll-out of alcohol in more stores could have on Wine Rack, he says the company is in a good position despite changes on the horizon. 

“Ford announced that our 164 licenses are fully protected until at least 2031, so for us, it’s business as usual,” he says, adding that while competition will increase, Wine Rack boasts “good points of differentiation” that consumers appreciate.  

“Our wine merchants set our shopping experience apart from the rest. We’re interested to see what happens, but we’re not trepidatious or overly concerned. We’ve been working to make sure our licenses are protected.” 

And while he says no one hopes a strike will occur, he’s confident Wine Rack is ready to absorb increased demand. 

“We’re bracing for it and ready for it. Consumers can see and know of other alternatives to the LCBO,” he says, adding that the brand boasts both street-front locations and spots inside of major grocery stores such as Loblaw, Metro and Sobeys. 

“Right now, we have extended our store hours, and we can further extend them if necessary. We’re monitoring the progress daily. We do not expect any changes to our stock. We don’t celebrate that there’s a strike, but we’re doing the best we can, setting us and consumers up for what we can give in the circumstances.” 

– With files from The Canadian Press

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