Beer battle a-brewing

March 25, 2008 4:29:13 PM PDT
There's a beer battle brewing between Wegman's and beer distributors.Wegman's, the New York based chain, wants to sell beer at its store near Downington, and not at the regular checkout line, but at its upscale café.

Last week, Pennsylvania's Liquor Control Board green lighted similar plans at six other Wegman's including its Bethlehem area store.

Grocery shoppers who spoke to Action News liked the idea of one stop shopping.

"I think it's fine. I lived in Michigan for a number of years, where you can do that in grocery stores and stores like K-Mart," Doreen Manos of West Chester said.

"I'm from England, they have alcohol in the store, so it would be no different for me," Sonia Folkers of Paoli said.

Some supporters hope volume sales and free market competition will trigger lower prices at supermarkets, but beer distributors are crying unfair and going to court to stop the LCB. They argue they are not allowed to operate in a free market and the state requires them to have an expensive license, but unlike supermarkets, limits what they sell.

"It is not fair competition because all I can sell is beer and a couple snack items and ice," Ed Klunk of Thornadel Beverage said.

There are a few supermarkets that already sell beer such as The Fresh Grocer in Drexel Hill.

"People would come in and be in shock," Donna Pester of The Fresh Grocer said.

It is not a high volume operation or, seemingly, a threat to local beer distributors, but it may be a taste of the future.

"I think it's a changing time for Pennsylvania and I'm excited. I understand distributors, I wish they could sell six-packs, too, I don't have a problem with that. I think the best person wins, the nicest place wins; people are going to go where they can shop in a friendly environment," Pat Burns of The Fresh Grocer said.