My neighbourhood SAQ (liquor store, to all you non-Quebeckers) is closed for renovations. It was already a rather nice SAQ, being an SAQ Sélection (meaning it offers “an unparalleled range of wines, spirits, beers and gift items, in addition to a full range of services.” I thought the decor was just fine as it was. It had a boutique feel, and was reasonably well organized, with an information kiosk right in the middle of the store and an entire wall of upscale wines nicely presented in darkly-hued wooden display racks.
But apparently that isn’t good enough for the refined people of my neighbourhood. So to serve us better, they’re closing the store for five months in order to renovate. Five months? I’ve seen condo towers get built more quickly than that!
In the meantime, they’re “serving me better” by making me schlep a kilometre to the west, across two major boulevards and all the traffic that entails, to their temporary location. And for what? So that five months from now my neighbourhood store will have shinier floors and new shelves?
The SAQ has a near-monopoly on retail booze sales in Quebec. Its only competition comes from grocery and convenience stores, where you can buy beer and cheap wine.* All good wines and liquors must be retailed through the SAQ.
So if they have no competition, why are they spending all this time and money on renovations? It’s not like the decor will sway me towards shopping at the SAQ instead of some other liqour store. Heck, I’d go there even if it was a warehouse full of rats and splintery plywood shelves. I’d do so because I have no choice.
I will spare you the extended rant about the lack of competition. I’m accustomed to that – it’s pretty much the same all across Canada. But what really burns me is when the SAQ further insults me through frivolous spending. I wouldn’t care about that if the prices at the SAQ were low, but their prices are, on average (at least according to my shopping habits) about 15% higher than they are at the LCBO in Ontario. Don’t even ask me how much lower they are in Vermont and New Hampshire.
So in fact, the SAQ does have competition – in Ontario and the bordering U.S. states. I certainly take advantage of that whenever I’m in Ontario – the car is always significantly heavier coming back into Quebec than it was on the way out.
So how about it, SAQ? Forget the renos, forget the high-price marketing. (OK, you can keep the new magazine, because that’s actually kind of nice – although it falls about 1000 miles short of the LCBO’s magazine.) How about giving us good, clean, and unrenovated stores and using that saved money to lower the prices?
* Wine sold in depanneurs (convenience stores) and grocery stores is shipped to Quebec in bulk and is bottled locally by licensed distributors. Wine that is shipped to Quebec already in the bottle is sold at SAQ stores.