Wegmans Gets Permission to Sell Liquor in Pa., But Faces Legal Challenge

Wegmans Food Markets received liquor licenses last week from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) for seven stores in the state, according to published reports, but the decision was challenged in court Monday by the Malt Beverage Distributors Association of Pennsylvania (MBDA).

The stores are located in Bethlehem, Dickson City, Erie, Lower Nazareth, State College, Willkes-Barre, and Williamsport, Pa. Wegmans has license applications pending for at locations in Downington and Mechanicsburg, as well as another Erie store.

The licenses permit Wegmans to sell beer from its in-store restaurants, known as Market Cafes. Customers will be able to buy a maximum of two six-packs of 16-ounce beer containers for takeout from the cafes, or order a glass of wine or beer with meals eaten on the premises.

Wegmans' lawyer R.J. O'Hara told the Associated Press that the grocer had to make renovations to qualify for the licenses, among them narrowing the passageways that lead from the stores to the restaurants. According to O'Hara, shoppers will have to pay for their beer inside the restaurant area, not at checkout counters with grocery purchases.

In the petition to the Commonwealth Court, MBDA maintained that the PLCB rulings s conflict with the state Liquor Control Code prohibition against beer sales at grocery stores.

"The sworn testimony in the Wegmans license hearings shows distinctly that Wegmans...is also the sole owner, employer, and seller of beer and groceries in the same location," said MBDA president David Shipula in a statement. "They can talk about building walls, barriers, and partitions between the area where beer is sold and groceries are displayed but, in the final analysis, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck -- or, in this situation, it's a clear violation of the intent of state law as adopted by the General Assembly and approved by the state's chief executive."

In the case of the PLCB's own experiments in selling liquor and wine in several grocery stores, the liquor and wine are sold by employees of the PLCB in space leased directly by the board from the supermarkets.

Wegmans spokewoman Jo Natale told the Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Citizens Voice that the legal challenge was expected. "It is consistent with their previous efforts to protect their economic turf at the expense of consumer choice," she said.

The PLCB also approved beer, wine, and liquor sales at a Wegmans in Erie on Feb. 13, but that approval wasn't included the MBDA's court action.

The MBDA has also challenged the PLCB's approval of beer sales licenses to convenience stores, which it believes violate state law that forbids convenience stores from selling beer.
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