• WEATHER ALERT Severe Thunderstorm Warning

Lawsuit filed to stop beer sales at Wegmans

March 24, 2008 9:09:09 PM PDT
Wegmans Food Markets Inc. won regulatory approval to sell beer at six Pennsylvania supermarkets, prompting a beer distributors' association to ask a court Monday to overturn the decision. Wegmans was issued liquor licenses on Wednesday for its stores in Bethlehem, Dickson City, Lower Nazareth, State College, Wilkes-Barre and Williamsport.

Pennsylvania's liquor laws impose conditions for certain categories of licenses, such as requiring food to be sold on the premises and minimum seating capacities, so - with a few exceptions - supermarkets have not sold beer.

But Wegmans' supermarkets have cafes that qualify for "restaurant" licenses, allowing beer, wine and hard liquor to be sold for consumption inside the eating establishment, and the equivalent of 12 16-ounce containers of beer for takeout.

Wegmans' lawyer R.J. O'Hara said the chain may eventually sell wine for on-premises consumption but has no plans to sell liquor.

He said the Malt Beverage Distributors Association of Pennsylvania lawsuit filed in Commonwealth Court on Monday was anticipated and may delay the start of beer sales.

"What Wegmans offers is a restaurant that happens to be based in a grocery store," O'Hara said. "By no means is it a grocery store selling beer."

He said the company had to make changes to qualify for the licenses, including narrowing the passageway that connects the store with the cafe. O'Hara said customers will have to pay for their beer inside the cafe, not at normal checkout lanes with other grocery items.

The distributors' association said the PLCB decision - technically six separate decisions, one for each store - was an abuse of its discretion and violated beer sales rules that the Legislature has passed.

"The LCB may want to update or modify or change the way beer's sold in Pennsylvania, but that's not its job," said Bob Hoffman, the lawyer for the beer distributors' association. "That's a legislative job."

Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans also has applications pending before the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board for its stores in Downingtown, Erie and Mechanicsburg. The PLCB approved beer, wine and liquor sales at a Wegmans in Erie on Feb. 13, but that approval was not part of the malt distributors' court action.

PLCB spokesman Nick Hays said at least two Pennsylvania grocery stores had previously obtained "beer-only" licenses: a Weis in Tannersville and Vidalia Market in Lansdale. Delis and other types of businesses hold the state's roughly 500 beer-only licenses.

An appeal by Sheetz Inc. of the rejection of its plan to sell takeout beer only at a convenience store in Altoona is scheduled for oral argument before the state Supreme Court next month. A lower court said such sales were illegal, because the license Sheetz obtained required at least some beer to be sold for on-premises consumption as well.


Load Comments