Dear SAQ

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.

21 thoughts on “Dear SAQ

  1. Five months is a bit excessive. In the projects that I’ve worked on like this, from my memory it should be somewhere between two and three and a half months.

    Thanks, I didn’t know that the difference in what kinds of wines were sold where fell along those lines.

  2. They closed “ours” on Beaubien for a good three months, as I recall, and I had to schlep from Beaubien to St-Zotique, which might not have been a kilometre but felt like a hella long city block to walk when one is jonesing for a pastis!

  3. You are aware, aren’t you, that by stating that you buy wine in Ontario and drive it back to Quebec, you are admitting to bootlegging?
    You gotta love our liquor laws.

  4. Amen to all the rants!

    I can understand the idea of the ‘monopol’ of booze (and games, etc.) to finance the province budget. But when I see how it is run…

    Yours is a good example…

  5. I feel your pain! If I think too long and hard about our wine situation in Quebec I almost turn to the bottle in despair…unfortunately if this happens on a Sunday after 5pm I have to schlep across to the plateau as all my closer SAQs close at that time. And we all know nothing palatable in the wine range can be had at the depanneurs! I really don’t understand why we can’t have a better range at the supermarkets and depanneurs…ho hum…

  6. OMG–first of all I did not know that thing about the bottled/bulk wine. Thanks for the info.
    Secondly: am I the only one who feels there’s a certain amount of “we [government] know better than you [petit bourgeois]” in politics in general, but specifically in municipal and federal Quebec politics? For what I mean, see: Avenue du Parc/Robert Bourassa.

  7. I must admit that I do miss the LCBO on occasion. They have it together. The magazine, as you say, is great, not to mention their selection. Whoever is running the LCBO definitely knows what they are doing.

  8. Just for your information: There are some independant wine importers in Québec. And there is of course Opimian, a wine club.

  9. The bikers blew up the pool hall over my SAQ on Ontario East by the cig factory, which caved in the ceiling and destroyed it. Now it’s a Thai Boxing gym up above, and the SAQ is a video store which rents you two DVDs for 2 nights for $4.00, (but nothing too classic). I suppose it could be worse.

  10. My “local” government controlled liquor store is an hour and a half and 700 bucks away by twin otter.
    Perspective please.

  11. Brian, don’t listen to Ed, he is such a whiner. He actually works in the next building from the very exclusive SAQ Signature, of which there are only two in the World. It is a 2 minutes and 17 seconds walk and he does not even have to go outside. There are also 3 other SAQ, whithin less than 10 minutes walk from the office.

    Ed, I do agree with you complaining about their prices.

  12. Stony, don’t get me started on the Ave. Bourassa thing… don’t get me started!

    Brian, good point. But as “the other guy” says, I am a whiner (or should that be “WINEr?”). But don’t focus on the fact that I have to go to a different location — that’s only a minor inconvenience. My real problem is seeing them throw money away on a needless, costly, and time consuming (FIVE MONTHS!) renovation, while happily maintaining high prices.

    Screw the renos and drop the prices!

    The other guy is also correct that I work between two SAQ “Signature” stores (both just a few minutes walk from my desk, and I don’t even have to go outside). In fact, just last week I tracked down a bottle of the wine pictured in this photograph, which was taken on Martine’s birthday in Rome last May. The wine was excellent, and who knew I could pick some up on my lunchtime walk?

    However, those stores are great for the occasional special bottle, but when it comes to stocking up on a dozen or so quotidian jugs, that’s a bit much to carry home from work.

  13. “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.”

    Good point Ed! I think the explanation is the same communist mentality that is deep rooted in Quebec culture. Just work to create work, to create pay-checks, without any vision or applications of free market economy.

    You are trying to explain a communist phenomenon with a capitalist outlook. Good-look with that!

  14. Interesting perspective, Thomas. I would modify that somewhat — it’s a “socialist” mentality that is deep-rooted here. A supposedly democratic socialism (as opposed to a communist or totalitarian socialism).

    I think (and this is just based on my observations), that this is a reaction to the society being, for many years, under the thumb of a authoritarian version of the Catholic church. When the church fell away (in the 1970s) it was replaced by a movement to be more socialistic (i.e., to base decisions on what is collectively thought of as being good for society as a whole).

    Unfortunately, the mentality from the old authoritarian days lingers in a lot of people. So instead of having an active, collective democracy, we end up with the same kind of complacency that existed under the authoritarian system. In other words, we all feel good about electing our representatives, then we just shut up and let them do whatever they want!

    It’s not supposed to be like that! The participation of the public is supposed to be on-going! But no, there’s this fog that comes over people after the elections, this sense that so-and-so is the elected official and therefore has the authority to lord over us as we just sit passively and take it.

    OK, I’m exaggerating, but barely. Look at that whole fiasco with the city amalgamations a few years ago, and the Ave. du Parc thing recently. Total authoritarian moves shrouded in phony socialistic rhetoric. Grrrrrrr!

  15. Brian, I feel your pain. I have to go through the same hoops, i.e. long flights in a Twin Otter, whenever I want fresh whale blubber.

  16. in Alberta they have it privatized so you get some interesting applications. On the highway from Edmonton to Calgary there is a massive roadside liquor store called The Liquor Barn that … well, is a barn full of liquor. Mostly malt liquor, 24s of beer and more whiskey than you can shake a biker at.

  17. Michel, it’s called muktuk, yum yum.

    Blork, I just thought I’d have the dig.
    Enjoy your blog, have used some of you cooking ideas and incorporated them into some of my own. Improvising is a must on the coast of Labrador.

    Have visited the SAQ stores in years past, will do so again in July all willing.
    You want liquor stores you would be hard to beat N.S.W. in the Antipodes.

  18. All this ranting is driving me to drink! (At $6.00 per 750 ml bottle when I buy a dozen from an acquaintance that makes his own)

  19. For years I have been complaining of the exact same thing here in Nova Scotia. In NS the NSLC (government liquor store) doesn’t even have the pretend competition from the grocery stores, yet they happily generate one architectural wonder after another, presumably to entice their customers into buying more. If the almighty were to grant me a franchise to distribute a product, to which my patrons were addicted, and with absolutely no free market competition, you can be absolutely sure that I would not be spending money on decor. Don’t even get me started on the compensation packages awarded to the directors who can boast about record profits year after year. Almost anything you can buy at a pet store could manage a monopoly and make money.

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