Pa. Supreme Court Upholds Wegmans Beer Sales

May open door for other retailers

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld sales of beer at Wegmans supermarkets across the state, potentially opening the door for beer sales at other retailers, reported The Philadelphia Inquirer. In a unanimous decision, the seven justices found that the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) properly granted licenses to Wegmans Food Market Inc. to sell beer at eating areas in its stores.

The stores have eat-in cafes that meet the liquor-code requirements to get restaurant licenses and sell beer to be consumed on the premises as well as to sell [image-nocss] six-packs to go, the court ruled.

Beer is now sold at all 14 of Wegmans' Pennsylvania locations. Its stores in Collegeville and Malvern have full bars, said the report.

Click hereto read the court documents.

Click herefor previous CSP Daily News coverage.

The justices noted that their decision "may foreshadow the expansion of the practice of large businesses opening restaurants within their facilities." But, Justice Max Baer wrote in the opinion, "it is for the legislature, not this court, to determine whether to curtail such practice."

The decision, rejecting a challenge brought by a trade group for beer distributors, comes amid renewed debate about how to modernize Pennsylvania's antiquated alcoholic-beverage laws, said the report. Governor-elect Tom Corbett has said he wants to privatize the state stores that sell wine and liquor, the report added.

The Malt Beverage Distributors Association (MBDA), which represents 450 beer distributors across the state, had challenged Wegmans' license on a number of grounds. The group says letting Wegmans sell beer would allow other supermarkets and big retailers to encroach on the beer-selling trade by establishing their own eating areas and applying for licenses to serve beer and sell six-packs. That, the association warned, could put beer distributorships--many of them small mom-and-pop operations--out of business.

Consumers in Pennsylvania now buy beer by the case from distributors, the report said; they can also buy up to two six-packs at bars, often at marked-up prices. At Wegmans - or any other retail store with a license to sell beer--customers can buy only up to two six-packs as well. They cannot buy cases there.

"We are disappointed," Mary Lou Hogan, executive secretary of the distributors association, told the newspaper. She said the group would consider its next move, but she acknowledged that, in terms of a legal remedy, it was "at the end of the road."

Though Hogan would not make any predictions about whether other supermarkets and chain stores would seek to sell beer, she said: "I don't see what would stop them."

It took Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz Inc. several years of legal wrangling to be able to sell beer at one location.

In 2004, the PLCB granted the convenience retailer a license to sell beer at one "convenience restaurant" in Altoona; however, the MBDA filed suit to stop the sales, and in 2009, the State Supreme Court revoked the company's beer license, requiring it to allow customers to drink on premise. In response, Sheetz re-applied and agreed to allow for on-premise consumption at the location as well as carryout sales, thus adhering to the current law. It resumed beer sales at the store in May 2010.

(Click here for previous CSP Daily Newscoverage of the Sheetz beer saga.)

"We are delighted that in a unanimous decision the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the [LCB's] decision to grant us licenses for our Market Cafe restaurants," Jo Natale, spokesperson for Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans, told the Inquirer. "It means we can continue to do what our customers have wanted us to do all along."

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