The Humboldt SLGA store, like its counterparts province-wide, sits in darkness awaiting the next phase in the disposal of the government liquor vendor. In October, the provincial government announced that it would be closing all 34 remaining SLGA stores in the province and dispensing the liquor sales permits through auction. The auctions have opened in many cities and towns. The remaining Humboldt license goes up for online auction through McDougall’s Auction Services, with bidding beginning on February 14. It leaves consumers and the retail community watching for developments as the permit sales come online, and in some cases, while the bids climb. 

In Humboldt, one interested retailer launched a pre-emptive strike into the market. The Humboldt Co-operative Association Limited announced that it finalized the purchase of a retail store permit (RSP) from the Pioneer Hotel in December 2022. The sale will be finalized in February 2023. 

“The appetite for the Humboldt Co-op along with plans to get into the retail liquor space started years ago back when Saskatchewan offered some original liquor stores up for sale,” said Joe Von Doellen, general manager of the Humboldt Co-op. “It piqued the interest of the board of directors and the management of Humboldt Co-op and it’s been on their strategic plan for a number of years.”

When Von Doellen re-introduced himself to the community after a several decades absence, he struck up a conversation with long-time friends and associates at the Pioneer Hotel. That conversation pre-dated the provincial government’s announcement regarding the sell-off of SLGA. 

What began with a conversation between Von Doellen and Russell Wittke, one of the family partners in the Pioneer Hotel, continued over the ensuing months. As the government’s intent became clear, those conversations eventually solidified, along with Wittke brothers Murray and Brad, into a deal to secure the RSP from the Pioneer. Von Doellen talked about the decision on the deal, as opposed to entering into a potential bidding war through an online auction. 

“From a risk perspective of avoiding an auction and elevating that price, we came to an agreement that we thought would eliminate that risk.”

Von Doellen cited prices beyond the 1 million dollar mark in previous RSP sales. 

SLGA storeIt's the end of an era with the closure of SLGA retail outlets across Saskatchewan. Humboldt's store closed this past Saturday. 

A statement by the Co-op notes that the Wittke’s grandfather was an original member of the Humboldt Co-operative (member #7). 

“It seems very fitting that a member who helped us start the Co-op back in 1936 is now indirectly helping us expand into the liquor sales business.” As part of the purchase agreement, the Pioneer Hotel will continue to own the license and operate until 4 weeks prior to our new store opening at which time they will continue to operate their bar without off sale.

Plans are for the construction of the new retail outlet to begin south of the current food store along Highway 5. Von Doellen says construction should begin as soon as possible in the spring with the intent of having the store open late in the year, hopefully before Christmas. The Co-op promises an exceptional liquor retailing experience providing a walk-in cold beer room, robust product offering and amazing customer service in a socially responsible shopping environment.

Auction bids climb in major centres like Saskatoon with a bid of $161,000, as of reporting time. The Watrous retail permit price has climbed to $61,000. 

While it remains to be seen what impact the concluded deal in Humboldt will have on the ticket price for the auction RSP, Humboldt and area consumers can be certain of a major retail liquor outlet owned and operated by the Humboldt Co-op.