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Members of the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association (PFMA) and the Pennsylvania Convenience Store Council (PCSC) are vigorously supporting legislation introduced by State Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) to dramatically overhaul the state’s beer laws. In tandem, the state trade groups have launched a new Web site, www.sixpacktogo.org, to provide a forum for Pennsylvania adults who want to join what is being dubbed the state’s “Beer Revolution.”
Among the food retailers backing Rafferty’s bill is Stan Sheetz, CEO of Sheetz, Inc., who recently presented the lawmaker with the signatures of more than 125,000 Pennsylvania “beer brigadiers” calling for changes to the state’s prohibition-era beer laws.
In his role as a “as a conduit” for customers of his family-held Altoona, Pa.-based c-store chain, Sheetz also unveiled the Pennsylvania Beer Drinkers’ Bill of Rights during a recent rally at the state capitol in Harrisburg, and issued a public statement that appears below.
Rafferty’s bill provides more consumer convenience and increases protection against selling to minors. Among other provisions, the bill helps prevent sales to minors by requiring 100 percent carding for all beer sales or the use of an Electronic Age Verification (EAV) device by beer retailers, allows supermarkets and large convenience stores to purchase an existing license and convert it to a Food Merchant License (F), and, maintains the number of existing licenses.
“Selling beer, including Pennsylvania-produced microbrews, in stores gives consumers greater choices, and the protections in this bill will actually help stop sales to minors,” said Rafferty, who noted that the Pennsylvania State Police has conducted hundreds of age-compliance checks at beer distributors, and in 2008 found that beer distributors sell to minors 40 percent of the time. Rafferty believes that his bill will help “crack down” on underage beer sales.
Joining Rafferty were several PFMA/PCSC members who commented on the landmark legislation, including John Otway, owner of Greentown, Pa.-based Dutch’s Family Markets. Otway, who has sold beer for more than eight years, said he’s concerned with the pending state Supreme Court case addressing the issue of interior connections.
“I can’t predict how the court will rule, but I do know that my customers have told me that they want to be able to continue buying beer from me — and I certainly want to continue selling it to them,” Otway said. “Sen. Rafferty’s bill would allow me to continue selling beer regardless of the court's ruling.”
Otway also noted that because his store is located in a high-tourism area, he suspects that a fair amount of state tax revenue is being lost because visitors are bringing in beer from out of state. “Sen. Rafferty’s bill will lighten their load,” Otway added.
Greg TenEyck, director of public affairs and government relations for Safeway’s Eastern Division, which includes the company’s Norristown, Pa.-based Genuardi’s division, said: “We currently operate more than 1,700 stores across the U.S. and Canada. And we have had a lot of experience selling alcohol in our stores over the years. In fact, we sell beer in 34 states, but not in Pennsylvania.”
TenEyck said he wants to dispel the proposition — or the myth — that selling beer in supermarkets will put others who sell beer out of business. “I think those who believe that are giving supermarkets far too much credit. To the contrary, we have found that supermarkets that sell beer and other forms of alcohol can peacefully coexist with other business that do the same,” said TenEyck, adding that in many shopping centers, Safeway has independent liquor stores operating next door to a Safeway that sells many of the same products.
PFMA/PCSC SVP Randy St. John said, “Rafferty’s bill respects those who sell beer now, recognizes the rights of those who want to sell beer, and answers the call of consumers who deserve more choice and convenience.”
The following related statement was issued earlier this week by Stan Sheetz, president and CEO of Sheetz, Inc.
“As a lifelong resident of Pennsylvania, I love this commonwealth. My family has built our business here. We employ more than 7,800 Pennsylvania residents. We are proud of the contributions our family and our employees make every day in our communities. However, as passionate as I am about Pennsylvania, I am appalled at some of the ridiculous laws still on the books. For example:
—If a ‘restaurant’ or ‘eating place’ wants to sell beer or alcohol for take-home consumption, they also must allow customers to drink it on-site;
—You cannot buy beer at the same location where you buy gas. However, you can drive home from a beer distributor with a case of beer on your front seat;
—If you sell beer or alcohol, you cannot give away a free lunch, but you can give away complimentary food.
The rules are mind-boggling, embarrassing and too restrictive. That’s why Sheetz and other members of PFMA support legislation proposed by State Sen. John Rafferty to overhaul the state’s outdated beer laws.
Sen. Rafferty’s responsible approach includes the following:
—‘Carding’ or electronic age verification for all sales;
—Maintaining the current number of licenses, but allowing supermarkets and convenience stores to purchase existing licenses;
—Beefing up enforcement of underage drinking laws;
—Allowing distributors to sell six-packs and 12-packs.
The bottom line is convenience. People of legal age who choose to buy beer will be able to do so in more convenient locations, as is the standard in 48 other states.
Of course, the distributors, who currently have a monopoly on beer sales, are opposed to most of this proposed legislation. I will give them credit. They are transparent in their reasoning. They claim this law change will ‘hurt their business.’ To them, consumers don’t matter as long as they can keep their monopoly.
We believe no group should have a monopoly. Why should distributors be allowed to sell beer at inflated prices, when opening up the competition will lower prices? Why should beer cost several dollars per case more in Pennsylvania than it does in nearby states?
In 2006, the distributors claimed to be watching out for consumers when supporting a move to allow them to sell smaller quantities. At that time, David Shipula, president of the Malt Beverage Distributors Association, said, ‘It’s unfair to Pennsylvania’s consumers to pay high costs for a 12-pack at a tavern or delicatessen when, if permitted by law, their local beer distributor could provide the same package at a much lower price.’
Why then, is it fair for Pennsylvania consumers to be forced to pay higher prices at a distributor, if a grocery or convenience store could offer beer for less?
For years, consumers have overwhelmingly said, ‘Free My Beer!’ We listened and that’s why we are taking this stand. You also have a unique opportunity to make your voice heard. Before the May election, study the facts, and then ask your candidate where he or she stands on the issue. Sheetz and the PFMA stand ready to help. We have information available at www.sixpacktogo.org.
I invite you to visit and separate fact from fiction. We all will profit from that.”