HARRISBURG - A takeout-only policy for beer sales at a Sheetz convenience store is not allowed by state law, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

The high court's 5-1 decision said the Altoona Sheetz's retail-dispenser license required some beer to be consumed within the store, which Sheetz has not been allowing. Sheetz Inc. had argued that its license allowed on-premises beer drinking but did not mandate it.

The court said Sheetz's interpretation of the law would expand the character of retail-dispenser beer licenses.

"While a policy determination in this regard may well be accomplished by our legislature, it is not our role to sanction such a momentous transformation," Justice Max Baer wrote.

The ruling was a victory for the Malt Beverage Distributors Association of Pennsylvania, which represents retailers that sell beer by the case or keg. Association lawyer Bob Hoffman said state regulators now should review whether other license holders were following the rules.

Sheetz general counsel Mike Cortez said that after reviewing the decision, the company expected either to apply for a new license from the state or simply begin allowing people to drink inside the store. Sheetz has been selling beer in a partitioned-off fast-food-restaurant section of its store.

"I can tell you that our customers very much enjoyed the opportunity to buy beer at that location - and they've done so," Cortez said.

Liquor Control Board spokesman Nick Hays said the ruling was being reviewed to assess its effect.

In dissent, Justice J. Michael Eakin said Sheetz should be allowed to ban on-premises drinking if it wished.

Hoffman said the decision could have implications for other cases, now winding through the appeals process, that challenge beer retail licenses' being granted to grocery stores, particularly the Wegmans chain.