To the surprise of many Pennsylvanians, the PLCB recently approved nine applications to sell six-packs of beer in gas stations and plans to continue to approve businesses with the appropriate protections.
The excitement of Pennsylvanians can seem over-the-top to outsiders, but to truly understand the significance of this historic event you must first understand some of the uncompromising liquor laws of Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania Wacky Liquor Codes:
- Businesses that sell gasoline for motor vehicles cannot also sell beer or alcohol.
- Beer distributors must sell beer in full cases of 24 units (recently amended).
- Beer and alcohol sales are prohibited in grocery store/food markets (recently amended).
This is just a taste of the hurdles Pennsylvanians must face in order to buy and sell alcohol. In a state with over 159 breweries, and beer/alcohol sales reaching 9.2 billion dollars last year, it’s hard to believe these archaic laws have stood the test of time.
In the last ten years businesses and citizens both have expressed the need for change. Pennsylvania native convenience store Sheetz Inc., Altoona, Pa, was one of the first to join the fight of ‘freeing the six-pack’. Sheetz Inc. made headlines in 2007 by classifying one of its convenience stores as a restaurant in an attempt to sell beer. The Malt Beverage Distributors Association (MBDA) filed suit, arguing the liquor code prohibits the sale of alcohol and liquid fuels from the same premises, but Sheetz ultimately prevailed before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. They continued the efforts in 2009 by launching the on-line campaign “freemybeer.com”, in which customers are encouraged to take action by messaging PA legislators and signing a petition. With over 44,000 online supporters Sheetz has been the voice of Pennsylvania citizens for the last 7 years, telling the state legislators enough is enough.
Pennsylvanian grocery stores such as, Whole Foods, Giant, Acme, Wegmans and most recently Weis also joined the efforts to change the liquor laws. Grocery stores today sell a significant amount of food for on-premises consumption and qualify as a restaurant under PLCB laws. So by altering each location to have a defined area where beer can be shelved and consumed, seating for at least 30 people, a separate entrance to the beer store from outside and a separate register to ring in sales they were able to acquire a valid PA liquor licenses.
"Dear Board Members:
I am requesting that the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) favorably consider license applications from businesses with appropriate protections to sell up to 192 ounces of malt or brewed beverages. Doing so will make purchasing beer more convenient for Pennsylvanians and is consistent with recent precedent in the Commonwealth Court. I understand that there are twelve such applications up for approval at the May 25 board meeting, and I respectfully ask that PLCB approve all of those applications that otherwise meet PLCB standards.
Currently, the Pennsylvania Liquor Code requires that the PLCB "shall refuse any application for a new license [or] the transfer of any license to a location where the sale of liquid fuels or oil is conducted." As you know, however, a recent Commonwealth Court ruling affirmed PLCB's interpretation of this provision to permit the sale of malt and brewed beverages on the same property as liquid fuels, as long as points of sale are appropriately separated. The Court's ruling in Water Street Beverage, Ltd. v. PLCB affirmed PLCB's decision to approve a license for Weis Café, when Weis had gas pumps on the same property as the proposed Café. The Court's decision sets important precedent that both clarifies this provision of the Liquor Code and allows for the sale of malt or brewed beverages at gas stations and other businesses under appropriate circumstances.
I respectfully ask the PLCB to approve the license applications pending before the Board, as well as all subsequent similar applications, that involve the same factual circumstances approved by the Board and the Court with respect to Weis Café. Allowing malt or brewed beverages to be sold at gas stations under appropriate circumstances is an important step toward our shared goal of "freeing the six-pack" and increasing convenience and improving customer satisfaction for all Pennsylvanians.
Forward thinking such as this is exactly what was needed to get the ball rolling. It will not be an overnight transition and there are other PA liquor codes that need to be updated, but as long as we keep pushing forward the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s liquor laws will finally be convenient and customer friendly.