With a 12:01 a.m. ET Friday strike deadline looming at Liquor Control Board of Ontario stores, this Victoria Day weekend could turn out to be one very long one for the province's thirsty wine and spirits lovers.
But residents have options in the event of a shutdown: mainly beer and domestic wine.
The Beer Store, the retail network operated by breweries, will remain open. So will domestic wineries and winery-owned stores such as Vineyard Estates and The Wine Rack; that's 470 locations in all.
Also unaffected are retail sales at craft breweries, such as Great Lakes, Mill St. and Beau's, craft distilleries, duty-free stores and Winerytohome.com, a retailer of domestic products. Same for the small number of Ontario distillers, such as 66 Gilead and Still Waters.
While in principle it remains possible to place full-case orders with the province's many wine-and-spirits agents, that option has pretty much evaporated. By law, agents are required to fulfill direct orders through the LCBO-controlled warehouse system. Given surging demand and the warehouse bottleneck of the past week, few, if any, agents are likely to make that magic happen.
"Our hands are tied if the LCBO does walk out," said Steven Campbell, president of Lifford Wine & Spirits Inc., the largest provider of premium wines through the so-called consignment program, which handles direct-case orders for the public as well as restaurants. "It won't work [calling Thursday]. We're beyond capacity to handle any more business, and I suspect most of the agents will be in the same position."
LCBO spokeswoman Heather MacGregor said the board has seen increased activity through its special-order channel and added that it will attempt to continue providing service to such customers in the event of a strike.
A picket line outside the downtown warehouse could foil that plan, however.
If you're not too bothered by the prospect of sitting in dry dock this weekend and beyond, you can always gamble in the face of encouraging statistics. Negotiations with the LCBO's 6,700-strong bargaining unit went down to the wire twice in recent years, in 2005 and 2009. Disaster was averted in each case. There has never been a strike at the LCBO.