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Wegmans gets the OK to sell beer
Malt Beverage Distributors Association files appeal in Commonwealth Court.
By Jarrett Renshaw; The Morning Call — March 25, 2008
Wegmans Food Market Inc. has won Pennsylvania regulatory approval to sell beer at six supermarkets, including two in the Lehigh Valley. But a beer distributors association asked a court Monday to overturn the ruling.
The state Liquor Control Board issued licenses on Wednesday for Wegmans locations in Hanover and Lower Nazareth townships in Northampton County, Dickson City in Lackawanna County, State College, Wilkes-Barre and Williamsport.
Also, the company is trying to get a liquor license for its Allentown location, but one is not yet available, Wegmans spokeswoman Jo Natale said Monday.
The ruling allows the supermarket, which has 11 stores in the state, to sell up to 192 ounces of beer, or the equivalent of two six-packs. The beer can be taken home or consumed in the restaurant area of the store.
Natale could not say when the company plans to start selling beer, noting the appeal could force a delay.
The state's liquor laws impose conditions for certain categories of licenses, such as requiring food to be sold on the premises and minimum seating capacities.
Wegmans supermarkets have cafes that qualify for "restaurant" licenses, allowing beer, wine and hard liquor to be sold for consumption inside the store and two six-packs of beer for takeout.
Wegmans lawyer R.J. O'Hara said Monday that the chain might consider selling wine, but there are no plans to sell liquor.
Last week's LCB ruling prompted the Malt Beverage Distributors Association of Pennsylvania to file an appeal in the state's Commonwealth Court on Monday.
The association said the LCB decision — technically six separate decisions, one for each location — was at odds with beer sales rules the state Legislature had passed.
"The ... order makes a mockery of the legislative scheme establishing and controlling the beer distribution system by allowing expansive use of the 'interior connection' and 'other business' regulations to circumvent the statutory rules on who may sell beer," the appeal states.
Natale said the company expected the appeal.
"It is consistent with their previous efforts to protect their economic turf at the expense of consumer choice. Argue as they might, the MBDA cannot ignore the fact that our Market Cafes are restaurants where customers enjoy meals every day,"
Natale said in a written statement.
Ryan Dietze of Palmer Township said Monday outside the Wegmans store in Lower Nazareth that he is happy beer sales are coming to the supermarket. "We vacation in Maryland and down south, and we like the convenience of buying beer and groceries," Dietze said.
Terry Picone, in his 25th year running the Nazareth Beverage Center on South Street in the borough, said he can't predict the impact Wegmans beer sales might have on his own bottom line, but the decision reinforced his opinion that the state sends "mixed messages" about alcohol sales and consumption.
"They keep harping about the [drinking and driving], but at the same time they want to sell more beer, more liquor," he said. If a chain as large and popular as Wegmans begins selling six-packs, "it will increase the DUIs," he added. "It could eventually have an effect on the car insurance."
One thing is certain: The allure of six-packs or 12-packs at Wegmans will surely tempt consumers fed up with the state's case-only policy for distributors.
"I understand the public wants to be able to buy a six-pack of a beer they've never had before," Picone said. "You don't want to buy a case and find out you don't like it."
Meanwhile, another case involving the sale of beer is making its way through the courts.
Sheetz Inc. wanted to sell beer for take-out only at its convenience store in Altoona. A lower court said such sales are illegal, because the license Sheetz obtained required at least some beer to be sold for on-premises consumption as well. Sheetz appealed to the state Supreme Court, which scheduled oral arguments for next month.
Where: Wegmans could sell beer at six stores in Pennsylvania, including two in Northampton County — Lower Nazareth and Hanover townships.
When: Wegmans does not have a date when beer sales would begin. A court challenge by the Malt Beverage Distributors Association of Pennsylvania could delay the sales.
Future plans: Wegmans will seek a state license to sell beer at its store in Allentown when one becomes available.