Several liquor stores are seeking permission to open on Sundays in a new move to liberalize the sale of alcohol in the Cayman Islands.
Liquor 4 Less and Peanut’s store at Red Bay Esso gas station, which was recently awarded a liquor license in a contested policy switch, are seeking licenses to sell alcohol on Sundays.
Business owners Prentice Panton and Gary Rutty told the Cayman Compass that Sunday is an important leisure day for tourists and locals and it made no sense that they could buy alcohol in bars but not in a store.
The liquor licensing board is also being asked to review five new applications from different gas stations for permission to sell alcohol.
Tortuga Rum Company owner Robert Hamaty told the Compass the decision to grant a license to the Red Bay Esso station had “opened the floodgates” and exposed Cayman’s stores to competition from multinationals like Sol, Rubis and Esso.
He said there was a specific Cabinet order banning gas stations from selling liquor and called for Commerce Minister Wayne Panton and Attorney General Samuel Bulgin to clarify the law on the issue before any more licenses are granted.
Agenda papers for the licensing board’s March 24 meeting show a number of new applications. Liquor 4 Less is seeking to expand its opening hours during the week and to open Sundays at its stores on Airport Road, George Town and Savannah. Prentice Panton, who owns Liquor 4 Less, has also applied to operate his Papajack’s Mobile Bar Service through the night until 3:45 a.m. on Saturdays.
Mr. Panton said an anticipated new wave of competition from gas stations had prompted him to make a bid to open on Sundays. He said some hotels, bars and stores already sell takeaway liquor by the bottle on Sundays to customers under what he describes as a “loophole” for retail licenses.
“This is something we have had requests for, for many years,” he said.
“If alcohol is being sold on Sundays at bars, why should we be any different?” Mr. Rutty, who owns Peanut’s at the Red Bay gas station, said he is also seeking a license to sell on Sunday.
“Many people are looking to get a six pack and go to the beach or out on the boat. We have tourists coming in and we have to tell them they can’t buy it on a Sunday.”
He said he did not see any issue with gas station stores being allowed to sell alcohol.
Mr. Hamaty said he believed licensing liquor sales at gas stations were prohibited by Cabinet order. He said the Legislative Assembly had lifted a moratorium on new liquor licenses late last year, but had not lifted the Cabinet order.e.
He said the concept of allowing gas stations to serve alcohol undermines long-established rules on liquor sales and threatens the business model of the traditional liquor store.
“The floodgates have been opened now and we have numerous gas stations wanting to serve liquor. This is going to wreck an industry that has been carefully regulated for decades.
“If you are a gas station store, you can open up 24 hours a day, seven days a week, just by locking up the liquor at certain times.”
He said businesses like his, which had set up dedicated liquor stores with opening hours defined by the license conditions, were at a disadvantage.
Cayman’s churches have argued against any expansion of Sunday trading or liberalization of the liquor stores.
Bishop Nicholas Skyes said it is “unfortunate” that gas station owners were citing the historical granting of a few license permissions to gas stations many years ago to “inflict this idea on the whole country.”
He added, “In my view and I would suppose many, this could be the worst idea of the century, to bring already horrible driving into an unholy union with alcoholic impairment by having it advertised and sold at the same outlets as fuel. Whatever can they be thinking about?”