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Pennsylvania Beer Sales Suffering

PHILADELPHIA -- With beer sales in Pennsylvania down 1.3 percent the first six months this year compared with the same period a year ago, struggling brewers, wholesalers and distributors fault 70-year-old state rules that prohibit distributors from opening on Sundays, and limit them to selling cases and kegs, reported the Associated Press

Last week, national brewers, in tandem with the Pennsylvania Beer Wholesalers Association, started a group called Modernize Our Beer Laws (MOBL) to push legislation to revamp the way beer is sold in the Keystone State.

They have an ally in Sen. Joe Conti (R-Bucks), chairman of the Senate committee that handles liquor control issues. Conti said there is near unanimous support among committee members to allow distributors to open on Sundays, adding that legislation would be introduced in early November.

The prospects for passage in the full House and Senate are uncertain. But Jay Goldstein, president of the wholesalers association and MOBL’s spokesman, said there is more enthusiasm for change among lawmakers than at any time in the past 20 years.

In Pennsylvania, convenience stores and supermarkets are prohibited from selling beer; taverns and sandwich shops may sell six-packs, but prices there are usually high; and distributors are limited to selling cases and kegs, six days a week.

Industry officials argue the restrictions cause "border bleed" -- customers from the heavily populated Pittsburgh and Philadelphia areas illegally crossing into Ohio, Delaware and New Jersey to buy beer. They point to the experience of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, which enjoyed a sales surge after making itself more consumer-friendly -- including opening dozens of its wine and liquor stores on Sundays.

But not everyone is on board with MOBL, whose members include Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors, the nation’s three largest brewers.

Some of the state’s small and mid-sized breweries are suspicious of the group’s agenda, worrying that its ultimate goal is to win approval to sell beer in supermarkets -- and ultimately in places such as Costco and Wal-Mart. That would give the big brewers a competitive advantage by allowing them to slash prices, while at the same time spelling trouble for independent distributors.

MOBL’s Goldstein acknowledged the competing interests, but said Sunday sales are a "no-brainer" that everyone in the industry should be able to support.
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