PA - New law could mean more competition for beer shops
By KEVIN ZWICK
Autumn Griffith says her beer to go is cold and easy to get.
“Where I'm at, you can park, get your beer and get out,” said Griffith, owner of Red's Subs, 6 Packs & More in Latrobe.
That is something Griffith hopes will give her an advantage against new competition: beer distributors.
Come Jan. 14, distributors will be able to sell down to a six-pack and single bottles. Lawmakers hailed the legislation as a boon for consumers, giving them more options on where to buy beer.
Griffith said bottle shops typically sell six- and 12-packs of beer that are stored in coolers. Distributors offer a more-limited selection in a walk-in refrigerator while keeping much of their inventory on racks on the warehouse floor, leaving it up to the consumer to cool the beer at home.
Some business owners say they're unsure how new competition will affect their operations.
“I'm not really sure yet,” Tim McNally, owner of McNally's Cafe and Six-Pack Shoppe in Rillton, said when asked whether the law will change his business plans.
McNally said he won't know the nitty-gritty details of the new law until the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board sends its alert to licensees notifying them of a change in the alcohol laws. A spokeswoman said the board is compiling its update.
The new law is part of a piecemeal approach to changing the state's Prohibition-era alcohol rules. Major legislative overhauls went down the drain for decades as efforts were bogged down by an array of opposition from allies of the state liquor store clerk union, faith groups, social conservatives and other intertwined interests.
Beer, which isn't under state control like hard liquor and wine, has had its own complex web of rules: Kegs and cases were available only at retail distributors while six-packs and single bottles were the province of restaurants, bars, delis and certain grocery stores.
Art Barbus, owner of House of 1,000 Beers in New Kensington, operates a different kind of bottle shop compared to the quick-stop six-pack shops. He said his inventory of more than 1,300 beer varieties, draft system and food are things distributors can't provide.
“We have a triple threat,” Barbus said. “We have the retail bottles, a great draft program and the food is exceptional. All those things get people in the door — they have dinner, have the draft and get a six-pack to go.”
Barbus said his business, a standalone operation not tied to a chain, can adapt rapidly, if needed.
Sandy Lombardo, owner of Sam's Pop & Beer Shop in Arnold, said she's still mulling whether her business will sell six-packs. But if the customer wants it, she'll sell it.
She said her establishment provides easy in-and-out access for consumers and has the storage capacity to buy larger quantities of beer from wholesalers than smaller bottle shops, giving her a competitive pricing advantage.
“Every time there's been a change, people have gone out of business,” Lombardo said. “You have to wait to see what shakes out. You have to be on top of it.”
Kevin Zwick is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2856 or firstname.lastname@example.org.