Bottoms up! Restaurants and grocery stores approved for wine sales

MECHANICSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Corks are popping all over Pennsylvania as the state uncorks wine sales.

Eighty-four new places, from grocery stores to restaurants, have been approved by the Liquor Control Board to sell bottles for takeout.

Six of them, including the Giant on Linglestown Road in Dauphin County and Black N Bleu Restaurant in Cumberland County, are in the Midstate.

“We sell a lot of to-go food,” said Black N Bleu owner Donny Brown. “Now you can pick up your dinner and a bottle of wine with one stop.”

But this is booze and this is PA, so there are rules. No more than four bottles per customer. Restaurants must buy the wine from state stores at a ten-percent discount but cannot pass any deals on to customers.

“They can’t sell it for less than what they bought it for,” said Mike Negra, a member of the PA Liquor Control Board. “They can’t use it as a loss leader and buy it for $15 and sell it for $10.”

Grocery stores must have separate registers to ring up purchases and must keep the sauce segregated within the store.

“Grocery stores will not have the wine in aisle ten, ok?” Negra said. “The beer won’t be next to the bacon.”

The union representing state store workers calls such outside sales the beginning of the end of the system. Negra isn’t drinking from the same bottle. Things will be different, he concedes, but hardly dire.

“Every retailer has to adapt,” Negra said. “I mean, I used to own video stores. I used to own music stores from a CD standpoint. Those stores change.”

Negra admits that no one knows if more places to buy wine means that more wine will be sold. The state is hoping to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in additional tax revenue because of the expansion.

“I think it’s an option that the people of Pennsylvania are gonna appreciate,” said Brown, who spent $2,000 on the license to sell wine to go and additional money on shiny new coolers that display the bottles. “I know that at the grocery store it’s a great convenience. I don’t think it will hurt the state stores. People will still go there when they need a bigger selection.”

Brown is offering convenience more than value. He has to buy wine from state stores and will then basically double the price to make a profit.

In a recent interview with ABC 27, Governor Tom Wolf toasted the change.

“We modernized the liquor system,” Wolf said. “Eighty-some years since Prohibition and this is the first time this has happened.”

Wolf says ‘modernized.’ In a press release, Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) calls the system ‘privatized.’

So, Mr. Liquor Control guy, what exactly do we have?

“We have a debate,” Negra said with a hearty laugh, not taking the bait.

But then he added, “the future will decide that.”

The future of liquor sales, for the first time in eight decades, looks different than its past in Pennsylvania.

Smaller establishments, like Black N Bleu, are selling wine to go right now. The larger grocery stores still have logistics to iron out with the PLCB. Negra estimates it could still be 60 days before that favorite bottle of wine shows up in your favorite grocery store.


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