Behind the scenes at the LCBO warehouse in Toronto
Sparkling rivers of beer trickle through the corridors. Women in steel blue oxford shirts tied at the waist roam around with trays of cocktails. Elves get to work on the second floor, concocting new drink recipes.
This is what I
imagined dreamed the LCBO warehouse at 43 Freeland would be like. I was wrong. It looks like an Ikea. There are stacks of wine crates on skids, a few machines for moseying the products about. The building's primary use is as a way station for Vintages products, so a place where you'll find booze deigned more for pinky-raised sipping rather than abandoned-dignity chugging.
To be honest, I'm let down by the lack of party in here.
My tour of the building happened after quitting time for the 45 or so workers, so it was a pretty ghostly scene. But despite the dull nature of the operation, the LCBO warehouse is crucial to stocking the city's wine drinking set. Each year, two million cases pass through the 100,000 square foot warehouse. There are about 3,000 different vintages in the warehouse at any given time, and inventory is generally in the neighbourhood of 180,000 to 280,000 cases.
George Soleas is the head of logistics for the LCBO (legend has it, he coined the phrase "beer before liquor, never been sicker"). In describing the operation, he notes that the warehouse stocks over 250 stores across the city and Southern Ontario.
The warehouse also processes private orders. That's right: the most privileged among us can taste wine in Italy, come home, and put in a special order for their very own case. Cases can be shipped in from virtually anywhere, and members of the bourgeoisie can pick them up at their local LCBO location.
The majority of products destined for the warehouse arrive via boat to ports in Montreal and Vancouver and then make their way to Toronto via truck-transport. As a measure to ensure that the wine doesn't spoil along the way (it can get pretty hot in a shipping container), between April 15 and November 15 all Vintages wine is shipped in reefers. Unsurprisingly, the most expensive products are shipped this way regardless of the time of year.
Soleas says they're exploring the possibility of using the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario as an green initiative (trucks aren't exactly a clean mode of transporting booze), but that remains at the exploratory stage. That's too bad given that the warehouse is mere steps from the harbour.
But that won't be a concern for long: the warehouse is for sale, and all of the stock will go to the Durham warehouse, which is the largest of Ontario's five LCBO warehouses. It's 650,000 square feet as opposed to Toronto's 100,000, and 52 million cases pass through it every year, making Toronto's two million look measly.
There's no word yet on what will become of the property, or what the bidding process will look like. The only thing that is clear is that the government will make $200 million from the sale. This building could make for some incredible apartments if converted to loft-space, but the likelihood is the 1950s-era structure will be demolished when the LCBO packs up shop.
Photos by Derek Flack
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