Town can’t stand in way of free enterprise – Graham

People uneasy about number of liquor stores

The Town of Stettler currently has five liquor stores operating within its bounds and has two more set to open in the near future, a situation in which the town has very little say, according to its director of planning and development.

Leann Graham said so long as business developers heed the town’s land use bylaws and adhere to building guidelines and standards, people can open any type of business.

Currently, the land use bylaws state that businesses can operate in two areas, the Highway Commercial area and the Downtown Commercial area. Both new liquor stores are building in this area.

If companies’ or individuals’ commercial plans meet the bylaw use requirements, “we can’t refuse it legally,” Graham said.

She said refusing to allow a liquor store to open based on the already existing number of similar stores would be like refusing a restaurant to open because there were already restaurants in town.

The number of liquor stores present in Stettler already baffles a man who works regularly with people with problems with the commercialized drug.

Teigan Lawton is one of two probations officers working in Community Corrections and Release Alberta in Stettler. Between him and his colleague, Jill Pfeiffer, the two corrections officers keep track of roughly 120-140 people per year, though the number fluctuates.

Lawton said about half the people he and Pfeiffer keep track of have conditions to abstain from consuming, possessing or purchasing alcohol, though the condition is not as common as it once was.

“Courts tailor conditions to the individual,” he said, citing a study that revealed putting alcohol abstention conditions on individuals who suffer from alcoholism is “setting them up for failure.”

The people who generally have these conditions are people who are law-abiding citizens except when intoxicated, people who aggravate situations after imbibing alcohol, or people who drive after consuming alcohol.

Though he said he is aware that liquor stores don’t directly contribute to crime, the number of liquor stores, and thus the availability of liquor, makes him uneasy.

The number of liquor stores “definitely makes accessing liquor easier,” Lawton said. “It’s interesting that in a population this size there’s that many stores.”

It becomes easier for people to “surf” from store to store to purchase alcohol, especially in cases where they’ve been banned or turned away. People who are refused service just head to the next store.

Especially in the case of minors who are trying to purchase alcohol, a factor Lawton can’t ignore.

“Alcohol is a significant factor with the clientele we serve, both youths and adults,” Lawton said.

Judi Beebe works with Communities Against Abuse, a small non-profit formed in the 1980s to provide assistance and counselling for kids who suffered sexual abuse and adults who suffered sexual abuse as kids.

One frequently observed element in the cases Beebe has seen cross her desk in the past 30 years is alcohol.

“Making (alcohol) more readily available isn’t a good thing when people have issues,” she said.

Before liquor stores were removed from the province’s umbrella and privatized roughly 15 years ago, there was only one liquor store in town, Beebe noted.

Now, there’s almost more liquor stores than gas stations, she said.