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Opinion: End of an era for Estevan

SLGA liquor store in Estevan closed on Feb. 11.
Many shelves were empty for a while at the SLGA liquor store in Estevan.

For the first time in decades, Estevan does not have a government-owned liquor store.

The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority store shut down on Friday, about 3 1/2 months after the provincial government announced it was exiting from liquor stores. Some outlets in Saskatchewan have already shut down, while those that are still open will be shuttered by the end of March.

The Estevan store seemingly closed with a whimper. We’re pretty sure it was the same way throughout Saskatchewan. If you walked into the store this year, you would have been greeted with a lot of empty shelves.

If you were looking for a top-selling item, like a macro brewery beer, a popular wine, a high-volume sales vodka or another spirt, you might have been in luck.

If you were looking for something a little less mainstream, you might have had a tougher time finding the desired product.

The Saskatchewan area that had beer and wine and other drinks from across the province? It had diminishing stocks for a while.

There’s an argument to had about a government’s place in the sale of alcohol. There are a lot of people who think government should be competing with private businesses when it comes to booze. Others think this is another area in which the government should stay away.

It obviously needs to be involved with the regulation of alcohol. Nobody would dispute that assertion. But direct sales to the public? Some will say that’s a different story. 

The last few months have been particularly tough on the employees who worked at the liquor stores in Estevan and elsewhere.

Generally, they were really good in Estevan. They were cheerful and friendly. You could tell they liked their jobs and they were proud of their work. Many of them had been with SLGA for a long time.

If a lineup started to form, a staff member would drop what they’re doing to help out until everyone had made their purchases.

The selection might not have been as good as some privately-owned business, especially when it came to options for less-popular products. But if you wanted something, they would try to bring it in.

You would hope that none of the customers lost their temper with the staff members in the last couple months because of the limited selection.  The SLGA employees have had the uncertainty of eventual unemployment. The last thing they needed was someone dumping on them because the wine or beer they wanted wasn’t available.

You hope that the employees will be able to find work elsewhere, if they haven’t done so already.

It is worth noting that while the Estevan store is closed, the employees will keep working until early March, preparing the store for its next occupant. Will any of the employees leave between now and early March if the right opportunity comes along? Nobody should fault them if they do. 

It will be interesting to see what happens to the building that housed Estevan’s SLGA locatoin. The natural expectation is that whoever purchases the Estevan liquor store permit would move into that location. The building opened in 2005 and is in good shape. It’s big, it’s bright and it’s easy to envision another retailer setting up shop in there.

The provincial government said when they decided to close the provincial stores, there were a lot of buildings that aren’t in good shape, and to bring them up to snuff would put the stores in a financial deficit position.

The Estevan store, at least at first glance, didn’t need a ton of work.

But the ownership of the building is shifting back to the proprietors of the Estevan Market Mall. The building could be home to a liquor store. Or it could be used for something else.

We’ll get to have the fun of speculating who will purchase the retail permit for Estevan and what will go in there and what they will offer.

But it’s also important to remember that people lost their jobs, both here and elsewhere. And that’s the sad part about this story.