The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that Wegmans supermarkets are permitted to sell take-out beer and beer for drinking on the premises in their Pennsylvania stores. The sales, however, must be completed at a cash register in the restaurant section of the stores.
“The court said that Wegmans is following the liquor code even though there is an interior connection between the stores and restaurant areas,” said a liquor code expert who works for the state House. “There are other example out there in Pennsylvania…bowling alleys, for instance, can apply when there’s an interior connection but the food and beer sales are separate from the other activities.”
The Malt Beverage Distributor Association of Pennsylvania (MBDA) sued when the Liquor Control Board permitted the beer sales provided the beer was stocked for sale in the restaurant sections separate from the main food shopping area. MBDA argued that letting Wegmans sell beer would allow other supermarkets and big retailers to encroach on the beer-selling trade by establishing their own eating areas and applying for licenses to serve beer and sell six-packs.
In a statement issued after the Supreme Court ruling, MBDA President David Shipula said: "The court is saying we need to ask the legislature to make clear that grocery stores cannot operate as de facto beer distributors which we believe is what they are doing."
The distributors, however, could be facing a hostile environment in Harrisburg over the 2011-12 legislative session, which begins January 4. The Republican majority in the General Assembly and incoming Republican Governor Tom Corbett are eyeing privatization of the state liquor system. A change in law liberalizing beer sales could move as well.
Consumers in Pennsylvania now buy beer by the case from distributors. They can also buy up to two sixpacks at bars. At Wegmans, customers can buy only up to two six-packs as well.