The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Business

October 2, 2012

PLCB wants to pair stores, markets closer together

HARRISBURG — Soon enough, shoppers in central Pennsylvania might be able to purchase wine, beer and groceries under one roof. Or, at least check everything off their errand list in one car trip.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board wants to make life more convenient for shoppers by moving some of its stores next to supermarkets and teaming up with grocery stores where beer is sold.

Dubbed “Convenience 2020,” it’s an eight-year initiative, and it found its origin in an unusual source. It emerged during the legislative hearings held earlier this year on a proposal by state House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, to privatize the state’s wine and liquor sales.

Clearly, customers want one-stop shopping and the ability to buy wine, spirits and beer along with their groceries in one trip, said Joe Conti, CEO of the Liquor Control Board.

So, the LCB is studying three “laboratory” stores with wine and spirits outlets inside supermarkets licensed to sell six- and 12-packs of beer.

Two of the stores are in the western part of the state – the Seven Fields Giant Eagle in Adams Township, Butler County, and a Shop ‘n Save in South Fayette Township, Allegheny County. The third is Bill’s Shursave Supermarket in Mount Pocono.

Shoppers can buy bottles of chardonnay and six-packs of Sam Adams along with all of their party needs from sandwich platters to birthday cakes. However, each transaction has to take place at separate cash registers – one for beer, another for wine and spirits and yet another for groceries.

There is potential to move more stores into supermarkets as leases for wine and spirit stores come up for renewal. Conti said the agency’s real estate department has met with chains such as Giant Eagle, Giant Foods and Acme about its initiative.

Seventeen other supermarkets, including the Karns Food store in Hershey, have wine and liquor outlets inside, but not beer, Conti said. Sales at about three-quarter of those stores have been successful, he said.

In addition, LCB also is looking at relocating some of its stores so they are adjacent to supermarkets. In some cases, it will require moving stores up the street or from one end of a shopping center to another, he said.

About 233 stores – out of more than 600 that LCB operates – are located in shopping centers with supermarkets. Leases would not be broken and stores would only be moved when leases come up for renewal, he said.

As an example, Conti said, the Oakhurst Plaza wine and liquor store in Susquehanna Township would likely be a better fit if it moved up Linglestown Road to be closer to the Giant Food Store. Giant has acquired a liquor license and will begin selling beer this fall from an in-store cafe.

“Six years ago we were approached by the developer to move there. We passed. Clearly, in today’s world we would really take a good hard look at it, and maybe we wouldn’t pass,” Conti said.

Shoppers such as Debra Burrows of Dillsburg said they like the idea of purchasing wine, beer and food in one place, even if it means hitting up separate cash register lines. “I could be more spontaneous,” she said. “I wouldn’t have to plan ahead.”

“What took them so long?” asked Jim Honafius of Lower Allen Township. He said the idea about separate cash register lines is stupid but the concept of one-stop shopping is appealing.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Turzai recently told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review the new initiative doesn’t quite measure up to his vision of what liquor sales should be in the state. “Try as they will, they can’t, unfortunately, and won’t ever be anywhere near as good as the private sector,” said Steve Miskin, Turzai’s spokesman.

The LCB’s push comes as efforts to privatize the state’s liquor system have quieted down. However, there are rumblings around the Capitol that Turzai is attempting to resurrect legislation this fall.

But with only a limited number of days left for lawmakers to meet, it’s uncertain at best if liquor store privatization will get done this year.

In the meantime, the Senate is eyeing a bill that would allow thousands of taverns and restaurants licensed to sell glasses of wine or spirits to buy a special license to sell those products by the bottle. But the Senate bill would leave the 620 state stores open and preserve the LCB.

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