By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Bahamian liquor distributor has refuted assertions by the Police Commissioner that its now-prohibited home delivery service breached the law.
Jimmy’s Wines & Spirits, the retail arm of the Bahamian Brewery & Beverage Company, confirmed in a statement that the Prime Minister’s Office had initially granted it an “exception” to deliver alcoholic beverages to consumers’ homes having received “hundreds of calls” demanding such a service.
This permission, though, was revoked less than 24 hours later with Anthony Ferguson, the Royal Bahamas Police Force’s commissioner, arguing that the service would have breached the Liquor Licence Act.
“Not only is it a breach of the [emergency powers] order but a breach of the liquor licence. You can’t go and sell alcohol anywhere as you wish,” he said. “You have to have a licence, and a licence like that... they don’t have the trading provision they would need to do that.”
However, Jimmy’s Wines & Spirits is understood to dispute that it breached the Liquor Licence Act on the basis that all sales for the home delivery service were being handled through one of its stores, which possesses the necessary licence to conduct such activities. It was not taking orders on the street or from people’s homes.
“We wish to clarify that Bahamian Brewery & Beverage Company was granted permission on March 25, 2020, from the Office of the Prime Minister to provide products via a delivery service,” the company said in its statement.
“We also wish to confirm that at no time did the company breach the provisions of the Liquor Licence Act of The Bahamas as the letter granted us an exception to provide delivery service to the public.”
It added: “On March 26, 2020, we proceeded with our delivery service starting with advertisement of our offerings in the media. The consumers embraced the opportunity, and were very responsive to the availability of home delivery alcoholic beverages. However, a few hours into operations we received a letter revoking the previously-granted permission.
“We were motivated to pursue this avenue by the hundreds of calls that we were receiving from our consumers daily requesting products. These are some extraordinary times, with lockdown and confinement that The Bahamas has never experienced...
“As stated, we were not in breach of the law as we were granted written permission by letter to operate the aforementioned aspect of our business. Certainly we take this opportunity to applaud the government’s effort during the crisis,” Jimmy’s Wines & Spirits added.
“There is no question of the seriousness of COVID-19, and the government’s intention to keep the population safe by mitigating the spread as much as possible. With that said, in initiating this process we took all safety measures into consideration including social distancing, use of sanitisers, gloves and other precautionary measures to keep both our employees and clients as safe as possible.”
Tribune Business reported on Friday how the government revoked the permission granted to Jimmy’s Wines & Spirits for the home delivery service within 24 hours of it being granted.
It had sought to overcome New Providence’s lockdown through a home delivery service that would fulfill orders for a minimum $200 worth of alcohol ordered by phone, What’s App or e-mail. Social media advertising was launched, with at least one promotional flyer obtained by Tribune Business touting a 9am to 4pm service with Busch Light bottles offered at a special price of $35 per case.
Gary Sands, Jimmy’s Wines and Spirits general manager, told Tribune Business it was “a huge disappointment” that the government yesterday afternoon revoked the approval it had given just the day before to a launch a brand new service amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said the home delivery shutdown had also deprived Jimmy’s, and its brewery affiliate, of the chance to earn precious revenue that would have helped to pay its 150 staff amid the COVID-19 national lockdown and its continued recovery from millions of dollars worth of damage inflicted by Hurricane Dorian.
Mr Sands added: “This is a service we don’t normally offer, and to undertake this project was not as easy as one thinks it would be. It takes a lot behind the scenes to make this type of thing happen. It’s a huge disappointment. It’s a huge impact on us in terms of revenues.
“We still have about 150 persons we want to pay, and by not having one single dollar coming through for revenue puts us in a huge financial situation like other liquor distributors. It’s huge. We’re dead in the water. Big time.”