The state Supreme Court shot down Sheetz Inc.'s takeout-only beer policy at its convenience store/restaurant on Pleasant Valley Boulevard.
The justices, by a 5-1 ruling issued Monday, said the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board improperly granted an eating place malt license to Ohio Springs Inc., a Sheetz-related company, because the license requires beer and malt products to be served for on-site consumption.
The ruling may have a larger impact on beer sales in Pennsylvania as some supermarket chains also have moved to sell beer at its cafes or restaurants.
It wasn't immediately clear whether beer sales will stop at the Altoona store. Sales continued late Monday afternoon.
"It's not clear to me at this point whether we can sell under the existing license," Sheetz vice president and general counsel Mike Cortez said. "We will need to comply with the court's decision. The real issues for me are: What did the court mean and how do we comply?"
Sales will have to stop "in the very near future" as Sheetz determines its next step, Cortez said.
The court upheld a Commonwealth Court ruling in February 2007, which overturned the state's decision to transfer an eating place malt license to Ohio Springs.
Only the General Assembly should craft an exception that allows a takeout-only policy, the court ruled.
"While a policy determination in this regard may well be accomplished by our legislature, it is not our role to sanction such a momentous transformation. ... Again, such a sea change in the sale of alcoholic beverages in this Commonwealth must be sanctioned by the Legislature," Justice Max Baer wrote in the majority's opinion.
PLCB spokesman Nick Hays said his agency is disappointed by the court's decision.
"We're still reviewing it to determine its full impact," Hays said.
Attorney Bob Hoffman, representing the Malt Beverage Distributors Association of Pennsylvania, said he believed Baer's comments represent the most important part of the ruling.
The association, whose members sell beer by the case or keg, filed the lawsuit against the PLCB to stop the license. It also has a lawsuit filed against Wegmans Food Markets involving a similar licensing issue.
Hoffman said he believes Sheetz will have to go back to square one if it wants to sell beer because the license was improperly granted.
"Sheetz is going to close down [beer sales] and reapply and have to do a couple of different things [with the configuration of the building]. There're still questions about whether it is proper to have a convenience store attached to a restaurant," he said.
Cortez said the company is disappointed for its customers.
"They clearly wanted to buy beer at a convenient location at our convenience restaurant in Altoona. We're disappointed that did not happen," he said.
Justice Michael Eakin issued the lone dissent.
"The characterization of the ability to sell beer for take-out as a 'privilege' in no way suggests that, should a retail dispenser choose not to sell beer for on-site consumption, such 'privilege' is lost. ... There is no transformation of the system here, much less a momentous one," he wrote.
Mirror Staff Writer Mark Leberfinger is at 946-7462.