Sue Gleiter | email@example.com
In the spirited debate on whether or not to liberalize Pennsylvania's liquor monopoly, beer distributors have stood their ground.
They have repeatedly said they don't want to face increased competition from big-box stores and supermarkets. It could hurt business and force many of the 1,200 family operated distributorships to possibly close.
Now, as yet another proposed version to privatize the state-run system is headed to the Senate floor for a potential vote this week, those in the beer industry continue to voice their opposition.
Sen. Charles McIlhinney, a Bucks County Republican who drafted the legislation, has said he would like to protect state-run businesses such as beer distributors from competing against corporate groups.
The latest proposal doesn't carve out specific licenses for supermarkets to sell booze, but it does allow 14,000 current license holders in the state, including hotels, taverns, restaurants and distributors, to sell beer, wine and spirits.
And that Mark Tanczos, president of the Malt Beer Distributors Association of Pennsylvania, said would devalue beer distributors' licenses.
He said it would be unfair for the state's 1,200 distributors to have to compete against 14,000 potential outlets selling beer as well as wine and spirits.
"At this point, we have been asking for what we have been asking for. Wine and liquor is not ours to take. We have been asking for package reform," Tanczos said.
The bill calls for allowing beer distributors to sell smaller quantities of beer such as six- and 12-packs, something Tanczos said the industry has been requesting for more than seven decades.
"I just go back and forth. It's just the unknown factor that gets you," said Genevieve Christ, owner of Oakhurst Beverage in Susquehanna Twp.
The idea of selling wine and spirits doesn't sit well with Christ. As it is, her store is crammed with cases of domestic and craft beers. Obviously, she said she would have to expand the store, buy new shelving and an inventory system to accommodate additional inventory.
Deciding exactly what to do with the business would boil down to seeing the final law as well as how many outlets would be selling alcohol, she said.
Jay Wiederhold, president of the Pennsylvania Beer Alliance, takes a slightly different approach. He said the latest proposal out of the Senate is fair and a step in the right direction.
In addition, he said, it shows the Senate has a strong knowledge of where the beer industry is coming from and realizes privatization could be detrimental to the state if it's done wrong.
"I think the Senate has really taken on the seriousness of what could happen. We like the fact the language doesn't devalue current licensees because they do employee tens of thousands of people in the state," Wiederhold said.
However, he said the beer industry would like to see the legislation stick to what the consumers want - the ability to buy wine and beer at more outlets - while keeping liquor sales in the hands of the state.