Local business shuts down off-sales amid public concern
Joel Krahn/Yukon News
Heavenly Bite Liquor Depot, a Whitehorse cafe and liquor store, made its last alcohol sale June 15, less than two months after it starting selling off-sales.
The restaurant shut its doors after receiving complaints from neighbouring business owners concerned with increased public drinking and intoxication near 3rd Avenue and Wood Street.
“When we started our off-sales, we had people calling us angry.… We’re not here to make enemies,” said owner Kim Giam.
Giam received an off-premises liquor licence April 1. He’d hoped to to boost revenue at his cafe, which he said wasn’t receiving “enough traffic.” But being able to sell at retail prices made the cafe more of a wholesale liquor depot than a restaurant selling accompanying beverages and off-sales, said local business owners.
Cindy Beasley, owner of the Java Connection coffee shop across the street, said she noticed more public drinking and drunkenness in the area, particularly in LePage Park, since the off-sales began.
“My customers have been accosted and asked for money. It wasn’t a problem for us before the off-sales,” she said. Beasley said she sometimes felt unsafe and had to call the RCMP a few times.
“They [RCMP] have come right over to the situation and usually it clears the crowd out for a little while and as soon as the RCMP are gone, then they’re back again,” she said.
Beasley said there are enough liquor stores in town and losing this one won’t matter.
“A liquor depot shouldn’t be there right next to a park where kids go and it shouldn’t be near a movie theatre that kids go to all the time,” she said.
LePage Park is owned by the City of Whitehorse but is currently leased to the non-profit Yukon Historical and Museums Association, under a 99-year lease. The association is responsible for maintaining the park but the last month has been tough, said association staff.
“Over the past month it [maintenance] has taken significantly more of our time and resources due to public drinking and intoxication, and we’ve been constantly cleaning up broken glass and other garbage,” wrote Liane Maitland, executive director of Yukon Historical and Museums Association, in an email.
Maitland has been working with the RCMP and Blood Ties Four Directions to help “deal with this behaviour and dispose potentially dangerous waste.” She added the situation has been a challenge for the association to handle and it is examining different options and funding to make the park easier to manage.
The organization works with Music Yukon which manages Arts in the Park, the popular summer concert series. Kim Winnicky, executive director of Music Yukon, said Arts in the Park has not been affected and is proceeding as usual.
“Our concerns are only with the health and well-being of the people who use the park regularly,” she said.
These “consequences and what we’re dealing with every day” led Giam and his partner, Elaine Giam-Ong, to ultimately decide to shut down Heavenly Bite. He said that the reopening of the restaurant is doubtful. “It’s just not worth it,” he said.
“We’re not sure at this time if we want to go back and give it another go to sell only sandwiches and (baked goods). We’re definitely not interested in selling liquor anymore.”
Maitland commended Giam’s decision to shut down. She said it shows his “commitment to community safety.”
She stressed the need to address the larger issue.
“It’s important for everyone to help address these social issues, which run more deeply than any one business, organization, or government can address alone,” she said.