Restaurateurs: Store chains driving up price of beer sales

It is the food at the Wegman’s in Silver Spring Township and the seating for people to eat it that allows beer sales, and by all indications brews are big business.

A restaurant liquor license in a grocery store is becoming a trend.

“Every time you have a grocery store that buys an R license, that’s one less R license for somebody who wants to open a restaurant to be able to purchase,” Melissa Bova of Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association said.

ABC27 was at the Liquor Control Board meeting this week when the Weis Market in York was approved for an “R” license, bringing to 252 the number of grocery or convenience stores that have them.

The Pizza Grille in Camp Hill has a license. Its two other locations do not.

“It’s a higher profit, it’s less overhead, it lends itself to making more money,” Pizza Grille owner Doug Barry said. “It’s also more attractive to the customer. A lot come here because we have a liquor license and don’t go to the other ones.”

Barry would like to buy liquor licenses for his Carlisle and Lemoyne locations but says the price is too steep, driven up by competition from grocery and convenience store chains.

“They have better assets,” he said. “They can afford to spend higher dollars for a license and independents like our operation, we don’t have that kind of funding.”

The restaurant association estimates that “R” licenses in Cumberland County are going for about $300,000. In Lancaster County, it’s about $250,000; $200,000 in York County; $150,00 in Dauphin County; and about $100,000 in Lebanon and Adams counties. There are a fixed number and they can’t be transferred county-to-county.

LCB chairman Tim Holden says the board worries about grocery stores pricing mom and pop restaurateurs out of the game.

“It’s a legitimate concern, absolutely,” Holden said. “There is nothing we can do about it as the law stands right now. They are playing by the rules and we approve them if they meet the requirements.”

Wegman’s is more than meeting requirements with great service, selection and prices and, yes, that dining area.

The restaurant association would like lawmakers to create a separate license for grocery stores, but know that attempts at booze reform has mostly caused a hangover.

“You tweak one thing, you upset something else, so there is a balance that needs to be maintained and that’s why it’s so difficult to get legislation done,” Bova said.

Of course, where economic markets are concerned there’s always a flip side. If a restaurateur has a liquor license and is willing to sell, it they’re probably going to make a lot more money than they paid for it.

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