Coming to some grocery lists: beer
Bill goes to state Legislature on Monday. Some stores ready to jump in, others not sure. By Karen Shuey, Staff Writer email@example.com
Greg Musser is focused on Harrisburg these days.
What happens there in the weeks to come could change his 88-year-old family-owned business forever.
He is keeping an eye on the debate over a proposal Gov. Tom Corbett floated earlier this year that would allow retailers to sell spirits, wine and beer. He is not alone among store owners.
"We would love to offer these things at our stores. It would add value for our customers," said Musser, treasurer of Musser's Markets, which has locations in Columbia, Buck, Mountville and Lebanon.
The proposal, which is detailed in a bill set to be introduced in the Legislature on Monday by House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, would give grocery stores, convenience stores, pharmacies and big-box stores the option to bid for licenses to sell beer or wine.
Under the legislation drafted by the Allegheny County Republican the licenses for 1,200 stand-alone wine and spirits stores would be auctioned off -- 800 reserved for large retail stores and 400 for smaller ones.
Presently, wine and spirits are sold exclusively in state-owned stores. Beer is sold at distributorships by the case and at taverns by the six-packs.
Musser said he's undecided whether the company would apply for a license for each of its three locations in the county that allow the sale of liquor -- the Buck store is situated in a dry township.
"The devil is always in the details and things will probably change as the bill goes through the Legislature," he said.
If lawmakers do come to an agreement on the bill, Giant Food Stores will definitely be interested in getting in on the action.
Christopher Brand, a company spokesman, said 44 Giant stores in three other states have sold beer and wine "successfully for many years."
"Our customers like the convenience and choice it offers," he said. "It's a natural extension of what we already do since many people use beer and wine as part of the dining experience."
Brand said the Carlisle-based company is eager to expand its sale of alcohol to Pennsylvania customers and would likely attain a license to do so at all of its 155 locations across the state.
Giant stores could be quickly outfitted to handle the new merchandise.
"We're familiar with how to sell it and we have the infrastructure in place," he said.
Liquor on the other hand would be new territory for Giant.
"We'd have to do some research on that before we'd enter the auction, but we're not ruling it out," he said.
But it all comes at a hefty price.
Under Turzai's proposed bill, grocery stores could sell six bottles of wine and two six-packs of beer per customer for a license costing $25,000 annually. Stores with annual sales of more than $2 million will pay $30,000.
Dave Darrenkamp, vice president of Darrenkamp's Shurfine Food Markets, said he's not ready to jump into selling booze just yet.
"We want to do our research about what it would cost and how much we would have to sell to make it worth it," he said. "But, most important, we need to talk to our customers."
Darrenkamp said his family doesn't want to make a decision that would offend shoppers, so they're keeping quiet for now.
"We serve a very conservative area, and we'll have to do our homework first before we consider this," he said. Darrenkamp's has stores in Willow Valley, Mount Joy and Elizabethtown.
Weis Markets is already testing the waters.
The Lititz store is poised to become the first grocery store in the county to sell beer after borough council last week approved the transfer of a liquor license. The supermarket hopes to open a 30-seat cafe that will serve beer and sell six-packs as soon at the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board signs off on the license transfer.
In addition to grocery stores, the bill lays the groundwork for other stores to join the market.
Convenience stores could sell six-packs with a $10,000-a-year license. Pharmacies would be able to sell two six-packs of beer and up to six bottles of wine for $17,500 annually.
Mike DeAngelis, a spokesman for Rhode Island-based pharmacy operator CVS, which owns stores in 42 states including nearly 20 in Lancaster County, said the company is "following the governor's initial proposal," but declined to comment further.
DeAngelis said CVS sells spirits at roughly half of its 7,000 locations, adding that customers appreciate the convenience it offers.
Big-box stores, such as Walmart and Costco, could also buy the right to sell spirits. They could offer six bottles of wine and cases of beer through a $35,000 annual license.
Target spokeswoman Jamie Bastian said the chain, which has two locations in the county, is interested in the governor's initiative to privatize liquor, and is "currently assessing how we may participate."n