Pa. alcohol consumers could benefit

Beer at convenience and grocery stores, a rare sight in Pennsylvania, could soon become the norm if Gov. Tom Corbett’s newly unveiled liquor privatization plan passes.

In addition to the most obvious proposed changes – closing all state-owned Wine & Spirits stores and offering liquor licenses to private wholesalers – Corbett’s plan would open beer and wine sales to a wider range of businesses.

That means shoppers could soon buy six-packs along with their groceries at chain grocery stores like Weis and Martin’s, if policies in other states are any indication.

“Pennsylvanians have made it abundantly clear that they would appreciate the convenience of buying beer, wine and spirits when they shop for their groceries,” Chris Brand, a spokesman for Martin’s and Giant grocery stores, said in a news release.

Some Pennsylvania Martin’s and Giant stores already offer beer, Brand noted, and locations in other states have long offered beer and wine.

Weis Markets spokeswoman Jennifer Sands didn’t say whether all stores would sell alcohol, but she called the proposal a “positive first step” in opening the market in Pennsylvania. Another spokesman, Dennis Curtin, noted that some 15 Pennsylvania Weis stores already feature beer cafes.

Altoona’s Giant Eagle, situated in the Logan Town Centre, already offers a substantial beer selection. Marc McKillop, who owns the Altoona store and several other regional locations, said it’s too early to determine whether the proposal would affect his stores.

While some grocery store locations have sold beer for years, their selections haven’t included wine; Corbett’s plan would change that.

A spokesman for Wal-Mart, which sells beer and wine in other states, said corporate officers were reviewing the proposal Wednesday.

“We are always looking for opportunities to expand our product base,” regional Communications Director William C. Wertz said in an e-mail.

It’s not just grocery stores that could start selling beer: Licenses will be available to convenience stores and even pharmacies, making that rare sight – the alcohol-stocked gas station – much more common. The Sheetz store at Pleasant Valley Boulevard and 17th Street could become the norm, not the exception, under Corbett’s proposal.

Other changes would be more subtle: Beer distributors, for example, could sell six-packs under the privatization plan. Under current policy, distributors can sell beer only by the case or keg.

It’s a matter of flexibility and consumer control, Corbett said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

“I want to give Pennsylvanians the same convenience that virtually every other American has today,” he said.