Looking back, I am struck by how Canadians’ attitudes toward alcohol and cigarettes have changed since I was a student in the late 1970s.
At the time, I worked part-time in the last of what the Ontario Liquor Control Board called convenience stores. Back then, the LCBO took the “control” part of its name seriously. His old stores did everything possible to avoid people. Except for the dusty display bottles of selected wines, all merchandise was hidden behind the counter. Customers had to search for what they wanted to buy from a list of all the products in the store that were behind the glasses, and write down the name of the product, the brand number (Mateus rosé was 1086 B) and the price. The buyers then handed their slips to the cashier who, after receiving payment, handed them over to a clerk like me who picked up and packed the goods.
I have to admit that my friends and I were friendly at times. We were also reminded again and again not to offer suggestions or advice to customers – they were on their own.
But, in contrast, smoking in offices and stores, including LCBO stores, was common at that time. Cigar manufacturers sponsored sporting and cultural events, and their advertisements and products were in corner stores and even some pharmacies.
Now they are the cigarettes that are hidden in stores behind empty cupboards, and they come in standard, government-approved packs with scary pictures of tobacco health. All forms of advertising and tobacco advertising are not recalled.
In contrast, at the LCBO today, control has been eliminated by aggressive advertising and promotion. Many of its shops are beautifully designed, with beautiful wooden shelves and lighting similar to what you would find in a luxury boutique. The organization produces a free glossy magazine for drinks, and food to serve with, and offers customers airline loyalty and discounts.
You are not alone. When I cross the river to Gatineau, Quebec, the Société des alcools du Québec stores in the province seem to be in competition with their Ontario counterparts when it comes to attractive design, attractiveness and product promotions and discounts.