Here's why you can't buy beer at our (NEW) store

April 16, 2015

EDIT (October 31st, 2015): Click here to see how things worked out in the end

First, a bit of background. We are a relatively new microbrewery in London, Ontario. When we opened in June 2013 we were the only craft brewery London had seen in over 15 years. Our operation launched in 3000 sq ft of industrial space in east London, and was been met with such a successful response that we quickly realised we would require more production capacity and, therefore, more space. Thus began our planning for expansion.


Our building has available units, unfortunately the adjoining unit is occupied. In reviewing the documentation set out by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) in the Brewery Retail Store Information Guide, we found that “the brewery retail store must be located on the same parcel of land as the production site of the manufacturer that holds the brewery retail store authorization."


We had to look up this term ‘parcel of land’ and we found that, in fact, the entire building in which we rent our space occupies a single parcel of land. We desired to shift our retail sales location to another unit within the same building that had higher visibility for our customers. We selected Units 3 and 4 (see diagram below).

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Since we are a nervous bunch, we contacted the ACGO at that time, who advised us “when you relocate notify {relevant person} via letter to the address above and she will send out an AGCO Inspector to conduct an inspection of the new store.” We were forced to proceed with our plans and then contact them again when we were ready to submit an application, as they wouldn't provide us with "permission" for future plans. They would only point to the documentation available on their website for guidance.


We spent thousands of dollars to build out the other space, commenced hiring for new positions that would support the expansion, and contacted the AGCO as they requested. Once the application was submitted the response came back: “Do you occupy all of the units or just 3, 4, 16, and 17? Are all units on the same parcel of land with the same municipal address?” After responding that the building is on a single parcel of land but we only rent the specified units, we were denied on the basis that our proposed retail space was “off-site”. As you all know, breweries are not allowed to have “off-site” retail stores.


We were dumbstruck in the face of what we thought were straightforward matters of fact. A local law firm composed a letter outlining the facts of the case and sent it to the AGCO (click to view). Once again, AGCO responded by denying approval of our application. However, if the brewery and retail store were physically attached they could change their decision. They also suggested that we could contact the registrar directly to plead our case; however, according to the AGCO representative this type of situation has been argued many times before, always unsuccessfully.


So it seems that these are the unwritten rules, or are they? Is it possible that small brewers are subject to different rules? We decided to take a quick look thanks to Google Maps.

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It seems that other breweries don’t need to have retail stores that are attached. At least two are in different buildings (on the same lot) which aren’t contiguous (i.e. Labatt beer store, London and Molson beer store, on Carlingview in Etobicoke). We believe that there is no pass through between manufacturing buildings and the retail store at the Molson site, and up until recent renovations in the past year the Labatt store wasn’t attached. The Labatt store is now attached by a cold room.

Why the inequalities?
We feel like this is the time for our government to embrace job creation and to help smooth the way to growing small businesses, not set up roadblocks that stifle them. We have proceeded with the view that we would fall well within the regulations as defined and published, only to be denied on grounds that seem arbitrary or, at best, based upon definitions that do not fit with any reasonable interpretation. If we do not get approval it seems we have wasted a significant amount of time and money building out the new retail space, we are unable to proceed with the expansion plans that will allow us to increase our production capacity, and we will have to delay or cancel the employment of individuals that would help us execute these plans.


We now appeal to you, the people, to help us in our time of need. We have no way of knowing if political pressure or will could change decisions in our favour. However, we can’t go down without trying. Please sign our petition here.

Cheers
The Forked River Team

P.S. Cheer Curtis up… he’s a pretty sad guy after spending months working on the beautiful space that we can’t use.

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