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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Pennsylvania Grocery Stores Push for Right to Sell Alcohol

I'll admit I was a bit shocked back in November when voters in Massachusetts turned down a proposal that would have allowed grocery stores in the state to sell wine. In a campaign that saw the largest amount ever spent for advertising for and against a ballot question in the Bay State -- $11 million -- voters bought into the argument that wine at grocery stores would mean more underage drinking and more drunk drivers on the roads. Polls taken just prior to the election showed the measure would pass, but a late media blitz turned the tide.

Late last year supermarkets in Minnesota made rumblings about wanting to be able to sell alcohol. Now it looks like grocery stores in Pennsylvania are ready to press forward to get the right to sell alcohol.

Wegmans Food Markets, a Rochester, N.Y., based chain says it will buy liquor licenses for its 11 stores located in Pennsylvania. This will allow the company to sell beer to drink and takeout in the cafe restaurants it operates in each store. The company might later add wine and spirit sales in the cafe. The move would allow customers to buy alcohol inside the grocery store because technically the cafe would hold a license similar to a tavern or restaurant. To qualify the cafes must have at least 30 seats, be separated from the grocery aisles and sell alcohol through a separate cash register.

Wegmans is following Weis Markets, which already is selling beer at one of its stores in the Poconos using a similar loophole. The company plans to add alcohol sales at some of its other locations.

Another Pennsylvania chain, Acme Markets, says it would like to see the Pennsylvania Legislature vote to allow alcohol sales in grocery stores in the state. The company sells alcohol at locations it operates in New Jersey. It plans to lobby elected officials on the matter.

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