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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Booze Fight!

David Sullivan
Published Thursday July 9, 07:10 pm
Comparing private liquor stores to the SLGA in an epic battle

For a long time, our only choice for retail alcohol in Saskatchewan was the government-run Saskatchewan Liquor Board Store. (Of course, you could also get beer at an off-sale, but it wasn’t until the last few years that you could get the hard stuff any place besides the LB.) Enter the privatization of liquor sales and magical purveyors of boozohol from names we know, like Sobeys and Co-op.

Because a few of us at Planet S have borderline drinking problems, we decided to take a look at a few stores and see how they compare. We evaluated things like ambience, price, selection, and service for a liquor store battle royale!



I was originally going to use the 8th Street store (long known to Saskatoon residents as “The Liquor Church”) as our representative SLGA outlet, but I’d also been hearing stories about the University Heights store, so I decided to try that one. It’s probably not as large as the 8th Street store, but it’s pretty big, with a strong “fill the entire back of your truck up with Pil on the way to the lake” inventory. It’s not as fancy-looking as the private stores, but it’s as efficient and workmanlike as a Saskatchewan pioneer. I find that the space makes everything a lot easier on the eyes, and thusly, often easier to find what you’re looking for. It also doesn’t have a walk-in cooler like Sobeys or Co-op, but there are plenty of fridge-style coolers at the back if you need some cold brewskis, stat.

The staff at an LBS are always friendly and helpful, and the day I popped in for a visit to write this was no different; I ended up walking out with a six-pack of a beer I’d never tried before that was recommended by one of the staff, who toured me around and showed me a few cool new imports they’re stocking for the summer.



In pretty stark opposition to the look of the LBS stands the Co-op Liquor Store in Blairmore, which is pretty far out for me to go on my regular commute, but a great resource if you’re over there. The Co-op is an upscale, boutique-like store with rich mahogany browns, brickwork, TVs and classy-looking flags to denote the countries from which certain wines hail.

The store feels a bit compact and some items could be merchandised to better effect. For example, I happened to notice Dan Aykroyd’s high-end Crystal Head Vodka in a hidden shelf near the scotches, all crammed into a tight display case. I wouldn’t buy the stuff, but it’s strange to have it tucked away. Also, no one said hi to me, or even looked at me while I was browsing around. I wandered the store a few laps and left without buying anything.

What the Co-op has that the LB doesn’t is a “Tasting and Appreciation Centre,” which is separate from the main store and has a boardroom look to it. There’s also a walk-in beer cooler called The Taphaus; while I love a walk-in cooler, The Taphaus is so cold that it’s hard to make a decision unless you’re wearing a parka. I found myself giving up when I started losing sensation in my extremities after only a minute or two.

I wasn’t counting bottles, but the Co-op probably has less beer inventory than the LB or Sobeys, though they have a pretty intense wine selection. All in all, it’s a nice store, especially compared to the minimal LB design, but there are some kinks that could be worked out for improvement.



In my memory I thought the Sobeys Liquor Store was a lot fancier-looking, like the Co-op store, but as I stood in the middle of it I decided that it’s really somewhere between the sparse design of the LB and the boutique look of the Co-op. I suppose that the décor of the place actually reminds me of a grocery store, but with slightly warmer lighting and colours, which duh, makes total sense. This is a pretty clean and well-ordered store. There isn’t a “Tasting Appreciation Centre,” but there’s a wine-tasting counter that’s the centrepiece of the store, which is always manned (unlike the Co-op room, which I’m guessing you have to book). In terms of wine, I’d surmise that their selection is less than what Co-op or the LBS has, but it’s well laid-out and not overwhelming.

There is also a beer cooler here — probably with less selection than the LB, but more than the Co-op (again, these are not terribly scientific measurements, so don’t quote me on any of this). The cooler temperature is much better regulated, so you can poke around in there and discover new beers. A lot of the high-end imports are also accessible from doors that are outside the cooler, making it a pretty cool and efficient design.

In terms of the service, it’s almost always really good. In fact, there were so many people actively trying to help me while I was there that it was hard to surreptitiously write down prices for comparison. I did have one weird clerk ask me to take off my prescription sunglasses so she could ensure she was dealing with a human, which I actually thought was pretty rude. I can assure you that I’m not a Terminator and that I can’t see if I take my glasses off. I don’t want to be the kind of asshole that walks around indoors wearing shades, but I’m not changing my wardrobe to run into the store for less than a minute to grab a bottle of bourbon.



When the private stores came in, there was a lot of talk about prices being driven up or down, or being wildly different between stores. When I compared prices between the LBS, Sobeys, and Co-op, I was surprised to find that they were all pretty much the same with one small exception. I chose four items that I might normally buy: A bottle of Erdinger import beer; a bottle of wine from Argentina, the 2012 Trivento Golden Reserve; a 750 ml bottle of Bulleit Bourbon; and an 18-pack of Great Western Pilsner (though Sobeys only had a 24 pack, the price per can worked out to the same). The only difference in any of the prices was for the Erdinger beer; at Co-op and the LB, it was $3.79 a bottle, but at Sobeys it was $4.49, a full 70 cents more. That was the only import beer price I checked, so it’s anecdotal in terms of whether or not they are more expensive across the import beer spectrum. If anything, these random numbers chosen by a guy who has no scientific training and terrible math skills showed that on the surface, most of the pricing is the same.



All of these stores are great in their own way, from being a funky store to explore, to being a simple building with lots of booze in it. If I had to choose a favourite store, I’d probably choose the Sobeys. However, the LBS is much more convenient if you consider that they have multiple locations. And if you’re in Blairmore, having such a cool store with good stock nearby is also a win. The real winner is whoever made craft beer so trendy — I mean, seriously, thank you to the guy that turned my alcoholism into a cool hobby! 

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