‘We will definitely have to raise prices’: The Cellar Pub braces for fall price increases

    Still of the student bar 'The Cellar Pub & Grill,' located at the University of New Brunswick Student Building. (Daniel Salas/AQ)

    Students who enjoy socializing at The Cellar Pub on campus will need to pay more next school year for their favourite alcoholic beverages, said operations manager Patrick Hanson. 

    “We are still trying to recover from COVID and the position our government put us in, dealing with that, we are nowhere near a recovery,” said Hanson. “This coming increase, along with the minimum wage increase, is only going to make things worse than they already are.”

    The federal government’s “alcohol accelerator tax” on beer, wine and spirits will increase to 4.7 per cent on April 1. The hike supposed to be 6.3 per cent but the federal government bowed to public pressure and industry concerns, settling on a two per cent increase.

    Hanson has been in his position at The Cellar Pub since 2008 and warns the student community to be prepared for higher prices at the bar starting in September. The pub closes at the end of April with the school year. 

    A not-for-profit campus operation, The Cellar has a mandate to sell alcoholic products at the lowest prices possible while maintaining at least a $20,000 profit to reinvest into the bar. Primary sales at the bar come from larger breweries like Coors and Molson, but it also has strong sales from local producers. 

    “You never want to make more than that 20-30k. If you do, you are not being true to your objective, which is providing the students with the best service and prices you possibly can.”

    According to the Canadian Taxpayer Federation, taxes already account for around half the price of beer across the country, 65 per cent of the price of wine and more than three-quarters of the cost of spirits.

    Hanson said the most challenging thing every year is the simple balancing of costs versus prices. Running a business is tough and just getting over the pandemic recovery is on his mind.

    “My concerns are that students are paying higher prices than they should because of a federal government that is making horrible decisions.” 

    This is a concern shared by Brandon Lefort, a bartender who has worked at The Cellar for the past three years. He said that due to rising inflation and a slow recovery from the pandemic, it has recently forced the bar to lay off several staff members in order to cut down on expenditures while still providing excellent customer service. 

    “Instead of bringing over a handful of napkins when someone gets their food, we will give them a couple if they ask,” he said, explaining some of the ways The Cellar is trying to make small changes to save money. “Everything costs money at a bar, especially a not-for-profit bar. From the salsa and sour cream for people’s nachos, to wing sauce, to the glasses for your drink.”

    Lefort has seen an uptick in patrons drinking at The Cellar, particularly on Thursday and Friday nights. With some of the cheapest prices for alcohol products in the area, many students on a fixed income go to The Cellar to unwind after a week of classes and assignment deadlines compared to going to other bars and restaurants downtown.

    “At the end of the day, we are all stewards of The Cellar. It’s employed by alumni, current students and those who have graduated. We are the only ones that can help it.”

    The establishment has its fair share of regular customers, including Grant Milczarek. A third-year UNB student studying geomatics engineering said that New Brunswick already has some of the highest taxes on alcohol, and raising the tax to 4.7 percent would only create more hardship on students trying to cut loose.

    “Students go where the best deal is for drinks, and The Cellar is the best spot. There is nowhere else to go on campus but to The Cellar on a Friday night,” he said.

    If prices increase significantly, he’s worried that it may cause some students to have a few more drinks in their residences before going to The Cellar for a night of “degeneracy.” He’s glad that The Cellar has a great atmosphere and the staff are very accommodating.

    “The Cellar needs to stay open. It’s a cultural place for UNB and STU students alike. You can’t beat their prices.”