Friday, April 23, 2010

Bringing Pragmatism to Environmental Issues

Waterloo Region health officials are agitating against a provincial initiative to allow convenience stores to sell wine and beer. Their argument is that it will lead to more drunkenness.

There is no evidence that convenient liquor sales leads to more drinking, and ample evidence to the contrary (in Quebec and the many US states that allow it). However, common sense is all that's needed to see the benefits: less driving. Beer and wine stores are so widely spread in our area that you practically have to own a car to get to them. In all of Waterloo - a town of over 100,000 people in a massive suburban sprawl - there are only three LCBOs and two beer stores.

Having wine and beer in convenience stores will also make corner stores more profitable, which should reverse the trend of declining numbers of corner stores. That will provide even more environmental benefits as residents won't have to rely on a car to pick up milk, the newspaper, and a host of other items.


In our older neighbourhoods you can still see where convenience stores used to be. They are usually on corners, and are often either boarded up or have been converted to a residence. They are reminders of a time when families either shared a car or did without, and were able to buy many necessities on foot.

We're always talking about creating a walkable city. This is how you do it: small, pragmatic steps that consider how people really live.

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11 comments:

gingercat said...

For me the demise of the convenience stores had more to do with Sunday shopping and grocery stores being open 24 hours. The convenience stores had a captive market before that.

I don't see the need to sell alcohol 24 hours a day and convenience stores are to small to lock up the product unlike large grocery retailers with a wine outlet.

I really don't think allowing convenience stores to sell alcohol makes a city more walkable.

The key to walk ability in K-W is to live closer to the core and you have the amenities you seek within a reasonable walk.

psystenance.com said...

While I do see your point, this is about whether to allow private sale of alcohol, and only indirectly about convenience stores.

Alcohol sales wouldn't do anything to change the main thing that has been forcing corner stores out of business -- a car in every driveway and the ease of driving to the other side of town to pick up the same milk for cheaper and get a specific cereal (out of dozens of kinds) to go with it.

People don't buy alcohol often enough for this to help our corner stores much, and besides, most people will just drive to Wal-Mart or the like to get the same stuff for cheaper.

-Michael

Yappa said...

If the goal is a walkable city, then we need amenities in walking distance. I live in Uptown Waterloo, but not everyone can live here. For one thing, it's expensive. For another, there's limited space.

Apartment buildings and subdivisions could be required to provide space for a convenience store. It wouldn't stop car use completely, but it would reduce a lot of trips.

Corner stores provide other benefits. When I lived in St Agatha, the little store known as Aggie's was the center of the community. People walked to it after supper for an ice cream cone and sat outside and chatted. I got local gossip and info there. There was a bulletin board where people put up notices. It had a limited but cheap movie rental business in it. Those are all things that I miss.

The reason for putting wine and beer in corner stores is to make them more profitable, but also - come on, we're adults. We can be trusted to purchase beer and wine outside of government-run monopolies. Most of the world sells beer and wine in corner stores - it's silly not to, and it's especially ridiculous to not do it because we might all become drunks if we have more convenient access.

gingercat said...

I too miss the sense of community that associated with corner stores. It is still there at the existing stores in the area.

I still think alcohol does not fit in with that sense of family friendly comradery.

I've lived with an alcoholic and many of my friends were die hard party animals. As much as you and I can be responsible, not everyone can. Now by adding availability to corner stores you are adding an unruly bunch that don't give a shit.

Alcohol and ice cream don't go well together and never will in my opinion.

psystenance.com said...

Corner stores are great, and I support all kinds of things to make sure that all neighbourhoods, not just CBD's, have easy access to amenities.

"...come on, we're adults. We can be trusted to purchase beer and wine outside of government-run monopolies."

Actually, that seems to be exactly the issue -- we're not all adults. And public health is concerned that those shops cannot be trusted to be strict about checking ID.

I'm not a fan of the high drinking age and generally unhealthy social attitudes toward alcohol in North America, but I don't think lax enforcement of poor laws is a solution to those problems.

-Michael

Yappa said...

Writing a blog is full of surprises and is always educational. I really didn't expect such opposition to the idea of selling wine and beer in corner stores, which is done all over the world without problem. I respect your opinions, so I guess we'll have to agree to disagree.

psystenance.com said...

I was trying to clarify the issue as it is seen by the public health officials, and arguing that the impact on walkable urbanism is likely minimal. The situation just isn't as simple as alcohol in corner stores or not -- in which formulation I'd see the answer as "sure".

I don't actually have much of an opinion about whether alcohol sales should or should not be via government monopoly -- certainly there are reasons for doing either. One non-obvious point in favour of the current situation is that it gives more prominence to Ontario-produced beer and wine, which is a positive from the environmental standpoint.

-Michael

Yappa said...

Hi again,

I see a pattern of corner stores disappearing. Even in congested areas they seem to be giving way to drugstores. If convenience stores were able to sell wine, beer and cigarettes while drugstores couldn't, that would be a big boost for the corner store. Of course when I think of "corner store" I'm not thinking of the crummy ones that mostly sell candy, pop and cigarettes... I may be romanticizing that a bit. I have been priviledged to live near some truly brilliant corner stores in my life.

psystenance.com said...

If the province were to relinquish its monopoly on alcohol sales, you can bet that drug stores would be just as able to sell alcohol. There are principled reasons for (or against) a monopoly, but there are none for discriminating between corner stores and drug stores (if you can even reliably do the discrimination).

Saving and reviving the corner stores requires us to get more people walking, biking, and taking transit, and it requires us to allow for commercial uses spread throughout neighbourhoods. Unless driving or parking suddenly becomes really difficult, their future looks dim.

-Michael

Bruce Fields said...

It's true that one of the things that's helped us to live without a car in a fairly car-centric area is the corner convenience stores, which clearly make most of their money on alcohol, but do have a little grocery stuff too. Tends not to be great, but it's nice to have the option sometimes.

Anonymous said...

We aren't talking about urbanization, there is even less evidence that liquor will save doomed convenience stores.

But there are laws in other parts of the world protecting minors and prohibiting sales, and tobacco is already prohibited from minors. Its' not like store owners don't know how to say no.

The reality is the nonsense of the monopoly. And its convenience stores that are behind in this scenario because many grocery stores already have wine stores right inside them.

There is NO valid reason to protect the monopoly, except perhaps the jobs angle. And, lets face it, all the romantics out there who don't like change.