St. Catharine’s, ON- Onside Media sat down with Robbie Raskin, founder of Archives Wine & Spirit Merchants, launched this summer in Niagara. At 26 years old, Robbie explains how he was able to open a business that will compete with the LCBO.
Graduating from the Artisan Distilling Program at Niagara College, Robbie moved from Toronto to Niagara, falling in love with the area and wanting to be in the beverage industry. Just before the start of Pandemic, Robbie was interested in launching a small whisky brand in Ontario.
He very quickly ran into an existing issue that many small beverage suppliers have, the LCBO makes it extremely difficult for small independents alcohol brands to get shelf space. The way the LCBO operates is that they typically purchase products that can be supplied at the 700+ LCBO stores in the province, or at least to most of them in large volumes.
This is good for larger brands but is very difficult for smaller businesses that don’t have the budget. Even with 2000 bottles, this was not enough for the LCBO. Robbie considered selling alcohol in other provinces with more liberal alcohol laws, such as Alberta or British Columbia, until the Ontario Government changed its alcohol laws due to the Pandemic.
When the Pandemic started and all the restaurants and bars shut down, the government changed the legislation to allow anyone with a liquor license on-site to sell bottles to go, which is how the new term “bottle shops” came to be. Once Robbie saw this happening, he decided to use the new legislation to open a bar but focus on the aspect of selling bottles to go, while other bars focused primarily on on-premise services.
Archives Wine and Spirit Merchant is a bottle shop with a tasting site. Selling existing products from producers in Ontario that aren’t sold in the LCBO such as other wineries and breweries that ran into similar issues Robbie had when trying to sell with the LCBO.
When looking for a place to open the shop Robbie chose wine country, the Niagara Region, and attributes this to his time at Niagara College. Niagara also seemed a natural choice as Robbie explained that for each large winery or brewery, there are multiple smaller ones that are not in the LCBO or at the Wine Rack, placing many smaller producers in the middle of wine country.
With over a year of trying to receive licensing and zoning, in January of 2021 Robbie leased a storefront in St. Catharine’s to begin renovating the space. This renovation was completed in April 2021 but last minute the City of St. Catharine’s rejected approval. This set launch back another year.
While starting an alcohol business is not easy as businesses must deal with two levels of government, Robbie notes that this was the easier aspect while working with the City has been much more difficult. On top of this, supply chain issues and Covid have caused additional setbacks.
Other than the initial launch, Robbie hopes to continue renovating the St. Catharine’s space to create a larger tasting section as well as introducing food and a lounge space. Another goal is to collaborate with a close friend of his in Australia who wants to become a business partner in the future.
Eventually, the two would like to create an import/export network that would get the Canadian brands working with Archive into Australia and get smaller Australian brands into Ontario. This would help establish a new market for some of the smaller brands.
Archives Wine & Spirit Merchants are located at 39 James Street, St.Catharines
Author: Kathryn Intini, Content Writer, St.Catharines, Canada. Kathryn is a fourth-year Business Communications student at Brock University. With an interest in big data analytics and a commitment to lifelong learning, she hopes to work in technical sales. She has been recognized for selling over $1 million in products at her summer sales job and her commitment to Autism Speaks Canada. If you have any stories or comments, kindly email: – kathrynintini.theonside@gmail.