Proposed Inglewood Caesar-themed liquor store, tourist shop down the drain

Calgarian Rachel Drinkle says her dreams of opening a Caesar-themed boutique store and tourist shop in Inglewood have been dashed by a city bylaw limiting the distance between liquor stores.

A rule requiring a 300-metre separation between stores took effect in 2003, and it’s meant to prevent a proliferation of stores generating traffic, parking, noise and aesthetic concerns. But the city’s planning department has occasionally relaxed the rule depending on the situation.

And that’s what initially happened in Drinkle’s case, until a nearby liquor store appealed and won.

“I was absolutely stunned at that particular decision,” said Drinkle. “I had an amazing letter from Tourism Calgary. I just had so much support behind it.”

In December, the city approved Drinkle’s application to change the site she’d chosen along 9th Avenue SE from retail to a liquor store, where she’d hoped to sell Canadian rim salts, seasonings, vodka and gin.

But after the approval was publicized, the owner of Klacking Bottles, located 130 meters away, appealed.

In its decision released this week, the subdivision and development appeal board overturned the earlier decision and denied the development permit.

Part of the decision read: “The Board therefore determines the Development Authority did not fully consider the Distance Guidelines with respect to the proposed development and its impacts on the community.”

In an email to CBC News, Klacking Bottles said it’s pleased with the board’s decision.

“The ruling of the appeal board is very clear and transparent. I am happy we have recourse to this as business owners in Calgary,” said store owner Jigarkumar Patel.

Liquor store or Caesar shop?

Drinkle believes the bylaws are irrelevant and outdated for several reasons.

She says, first of all, her business model is unique and not a typical liquor store. She added that Inglewood and some other neighborhoods are flush with breweries, which sell beer across the street from one another.

Finally, she says, people can order booze online from anywhere these days.

“Like the whole world [is] a liquor store at this point,” said Drinkle.

Count. Gian-Carlo Carra said he supports Drinkle’s business idea. He agrees it is a destination Caesar shop and would not be in competition with nearby liquor stores.

“I’m disappointed. I think it’s a very cool concept,” said Carra.

“It fits beautifully in Inglewood, and I’m sorry that the regulations that council established to address exceptional circumstances of community vulnerability were applied here.”

The widely known Caesar cocktail was invented decades ago in Calgary. (Rachel Drinkle)

Carra suggested the board could have put in some stipulations to prevent any future tenant from converting it to a full-fledged liquor store and tied the permit to Drinkle specifically.

In a letter to the subdivision and development appeal board, the head of the Inglewood Business Improvement Area, Rebecca O’Brien, said they support Drinkle’s concept and that it “fits the mainstreet,” but they also see the need for the 300-metre by law to “ensure a healthy retail area.”

They, too, suggested some conditions to be applied with an approval such as the need for an annual permit renewal process to prevent a traditional liquor store from popping up if the site changed hands.

Difficulty finding a new location

Drinkle says she has been told she could apply once she has a new location, but there aren’t many places that meet the 300-metre rule in a prime location.

“It needs to be in a place that has that tourism appeal, and it has that walkability, and it has that funky boutique atmosphere — everything that Inglewood offers,” said Drinkle.

She could also ask the city council for a land use redesignation specific to a Caesar shop, bypassing the bylaw, she said, but it would take more time and money.

Meanwhile, Drinkle has plans to focus on another Caesar venture, YYCaesarfest, which she launched just as the pandemic hit and had to postpone until last year. The festival, which will hold its second event in May, sees local vendors and bars showcase different variations of the popular beverage.