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Relaxed for the holidays: Pa.'s rules on beer, wine sales

Delighted! That captured the mood of shoppers at Wegmans in King of Prussia this month, as shoppers exercised their new freedom to buy wine and beer in the same store, thanks to a law that took effect in August.


That captured the mood of shoppers at Wegmans in King of Prussia this month, as shoppers exercised their new freedom to buy wine and beer in the same store, thanks to a law that took effect in August.

"I think it's awesome," said Kirk Spadt, a Radnor resident who already had the habit of picking up a six-pack of India pale ale at the store. Now that Wegmans sells wine, he also picked up "two bottles of Prosecco for my sweetheart."

The Wegmans is among at least 44 supermarkets in Southeastern Pennsylvania that were stocking wine the week before Thanksgiving, making it possible for Pennsylvania consumers for the first time to pick up a bottle or two of pinot noir and Riesling to go with the turkey and sweet potatoes in their shopping cart.

In addition to allowing licensed grocery stores to sell up to four bottles of wine at once, the far-reaching law that took effect Aug. 8 legalized direct shipping to consumers. It allowed the Liquor Control Board to open more stores on Sunday with longer hours, and permitted small wineries, breweries, and distillers to sell each other's products.

More changes are coming in January, when beer distributors will be free to sell six-packs, growlers, and even single bottles.

Whether the changes are the biggest since Prohibition or since State Stores started allowing self-service in 1969, Wegmans shoppers on Nov. 17 were singing the praises of the state's new regime.

"I think it's fabulous," said Judith Lynch, who lives near Valley Forge National Historical Park. "I buy all my beer here. Now I can do it all at once."

What about still needing to go to a State Store for spirits? "I don't drink whiskey, so that doesn't bother me," said Lynch, who was glad to find mini-bottles of Sutter Home merlot on the shelf at Wegmans.

Wegmans, based in Rochester, N.Y., finished rolling out wine sales at all 17 of its Pennsylvania locations on Nov. 17.

The selection at Wegmans ranges from 400 to 800 wine items, depending on the layout of the store, said Blaine Forkell, senior vice president for Wegmans Foods Markets Pennsylvania division.

The company made space for wine by eliminating duplication in its beer stocks or by rearranging seating. "Our goal was never to harm our beer sales or trade beer sales for wine," Forkell said.

The King of Prussia store has between 750 and 800 items, he said.

Shoppers called it a decent selection. Prices matched those at State Stores. Many state stores, however, have a far bigger selection. New Fine Wine and Good Spirits Premium Collection stores, such as those on Chestnut Street in Center City, in Glen Mills, in King of Prussia, and in Doylestown each carry 1,900 to 2,000 different wine items, according to the LCB.

"It's not going to eliminate going to the State Store," Robin Stevens of Paoli said of the Wegmans wine store, which she described as perfect for picking up a bottle quickly for dinner. Stevens was shopping with her husband, Ed, and they had three bottles of Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais nouveau in their cart.

Many of the LCB's newest stores are among those open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays. Under the old law, the LCB could open only a quarter of its stores on Sunday, and only from noon to 5 p.m. Now the LCB is allowed to open as many as it wants on Sunday, and for as long as it deems appropriate.

LCB Chairman Tim Holden told members of the Pennsylvania House Liquor Control Committee on Nov. 16 that the agency increased the number of stores open on Sunday to 323 from 188 before.

Another major change for consumers - even bigger than supermarket sales for the most dedicated wine lovers - is the adoption of direct-to-consumer shipping from winemakers nationwide. That puts Pennsylvania in line with 43 other states - and along with sales of wine in supermarkets could help boost the state's low rank in per capita wine consumption.

Pennsylvania ranked 37th in 2014, the Beverage Information Group said.

"There's a lot of pent-up demand to reach the Pennsylvania market," said Terri Cofer Beirne, eastern counsel for the Wine Institute, a San Francisco trade group for California wineries. As of Nov. 18, the PLCB had issued 699 direct-shipper permits.

Direct shippers can sell up to 36 cases of wine per Pennsylvania consumer.

It is too soon to say how much wine is being directly shipped to consumers. Direct shippers will have to file annual reports for the LCB. Eventually tax data will also show how much wine is coming in.

Beer geeks have not been left out of the fun.

Starting Jan. 14, beer distributors will be able to better compete with the supermarkets that have taken market share.

Supermarkets typically focus on top sellers, leaving room for distributors with their imminent ability to sell smaller quantities to cater to a broader range of tastes in beer.

"A consumer who walks into my store knows they will be able to buy a case of beer at a good price," said Paul Egonopoulos, who owns Brewer's Outlet in the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia.

"If they want a six-pack or a 12-pack or a bottle of beer, they know it's all going to be under one roof," he said. "I think that's a huge plus for people who really think of beer as a destination."