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Little Italy grocer to close its doors in alcohol sale dispute with province

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A popular Italian grocery store in Ottawa's Little Italy is closing its doors after a dispute with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario over the sale of alcohol.

Mercato Zacconi has been in business since 2021 and is one of the few grocery stores in the area.

The store says the closure will result in 40 employees losing their jobs.

"It is with deep regret to inform you that we have made the hard decision to close our doors to Mercato Zacconi," a statement by the store released on Thursday said.

"The decision to close our doors has been a challenging one as we have found ourselves being unfairly targeted by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO). This has made our future success unobtainable."

Many restaurant and grocery store owners in Ontario have been fighting to keep their ability to sell booze, an exception that was granted to many during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the province has expanded the number of grocery stores able to sell beer, wine and ciders, the AGCO has started to roll back the number of stores who were granted a pandemic exemption.

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, the AGCO said they are obligated to uphold Ontario’s liquor laws.

"Over the past two years, the AGCO has offered to work with the owners and representatives of Mercato Zacconi to help them achieve their business goals in a way that meets the requirements of Ontario’s liquor laws," read the emailed statement.

"The AGCO continues to be available to offer guidance and work collaboratively to ensure measures are in place for the retailer to meet their obligations under the Liquor Licence and Control Act."  

Tony Zacconi, the owner of the store who also owns Sala San Marco next door, told CTV News Ottawa that since the province shut down his ability to sell alcohol in August, he has been losing up to $2,000 in sales per day.

"I feel it's unfair because there's plenty of other businesses doing the same thing as me," Zacconi said.

"Unfortunately for some reason I was targeted." 

Customers at Mercato Zacconi on Friday were upset about the store closing and expressed frustration on the liquor rules in the province.

"There’s too many rules," said customer Stuie Melville.

"It’s kind of a stupid rule, really."

Customer Nancy White agreed.

"It doesn't seem to be consistent," she said.

"It’s sad. There’s so many people that try to have a life, run a business and they’re on them all the time."

The store says all gift cards will be honoured until Dec. 31 and the store remains open at this time.

"Until our last day of operation we will continue to serve you with the same dedication and commitment that has defined Mercato Zacconi," the store said, which did not specify a closing date.

"We are grateful for the opportunity to have been part of this community and we hope that you will carry the positive experiences you've had into the future."

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