Busier stores, but lost LCBO sales: Local distillers and brewers brace for impact of strike

Some distillery owners around Waterloo region are worried about how the LCBO strike could impact business.

Distilleries can only sell their hard alcoholic drinks like vodka, gin and whiskey at their retail store, in bulk to a local restaurant or through the LCBO. But breweries or wineries selling ciders, wines and beers have the flexibility to also sell their products at eligible grocery and big-box stores.

Now some distillery owners are feeling concerned after more than 9,000 Ontario liquor store employees declared they will be going on strike after bargaining talks broke down between their union and the LCBO on Thursday night.

JD Dixon, president of Dixon's Distilled Spirits, says customers were lined up outside their store on the following Friday morning.

"Our store is busier, which is great to see. But now we lose all the sales at the LCBO stores. So when we were selling our gins down in Ottawa or Windsor or in Muskoka [through the LCBO], we're not getting those sales anymore."

He says if the strike goes on for 14 days, his business could lose about $30,000 to $40,000 in sales. But Dixon is hoping an uptick in revenue at their retail store will help offset that.

"In fact, we're going to bottle more whiskey because we just sold out of our inventory," he said after the Friday morning lineup outside his retail store.

Chevy Patterson, a co-owner of Dixon's Spirits, holds up a bottle of its locally-made gin at the micro distillery's store in Guelph.
Chevy Patterson, a co-owner of Dixon's Spirits, holds up a bottle of its locally-made gin at the micro distillery's store in Guelph. The distillery ran out of whiskey on Friday - the first day of the LCBO strike. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Trying to stay optimistic

Cooper Sleeman, director of sales and marketing at the Spring Mill Distillery in Guelph, says they're trying to stay optimistic and hoping the LCBO strike pushes more people to try local brands.

"We've got staff that are going to be at the store a little bit longer. We've opened the hours a little bit longer," he said. "Depending on how long this goes, you know, we might even open it up even earlier."

Sleeman says it's difficult to tell how the strike could cut their profits.

"There's still bars and restaurants that are going to be open and we're able to supply them. We just started our e-commerce store online. We just actually launched that like three months ago. Maybe there'll be more traffic that way as well," he said.

Michael Weber, who owns Neustadt Springs Brewery, is hoping the LCBO strike will boost their beer sales.

"We really rely on a lot of people coming in our door," he said, adding that they only sell a couple of their beers through the LCBO — with a lot more variety in their retail store.

"We're in a stage of growth which is really exciting for us. We're hoping that we get a lot more online sales. We're really trying to push that. We have our full variety of beer available online and we deliver anywhere in Ontario."

Jordan Dolson owns Legacy Greens, a grocery store that sells alcohol in downtown Kitchener.

She says she ordered more stock when she heard about the LCBO strike.

"I hope that people feel kind of experimental and want to try something local and new. We sell a variety of different local products from the area," she said.

"I hope that we meet some new customers." Dolson said.