Sheetz Beer License Hangs in the Balance

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Sheetz Beer License Hangs in the Balance

ALTOONA, Pa. -- Yesterday, Pennsylvania Supreme Court fielded arguments in a landmark case that will govern how beer at convenience stores and supermarkets will be sold in the future in the state.

The issue centers on Ohio Springs Inc., a Sheetz subsidiary, which holds the eating place malt license for the Sheetz convenience store and restaurant on Pleasant Valley Boulevard. The Altoona Mirror reported that the Malt Beverage Distributors Association of Pennsylvania sued the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board over issuing the license. The association contends that since the license permits on-site consumption the store should not be able to sell takeout beer.

"I couldn't even venture a guess as to the outcome," Sheetz vice president and general counsel, Michael Cortez, told the paper.

Ohio Springs attorney Stanley Wolowski told the court that Sheetz would serve beer in the Altoona store if required. While not cited in this case, a lawyer for a regional Wegmans is pursuing a similar licensing deal. Approximately 500 establishments hold beer-only licenses like the one granted to Sheetz, which permits the sale of six-packs as well as serving beer on-site. The current law states that takeout customers can buy the equivalent of two six-packs of 16-ounce cans.

"The [liquor board] authorized venues to sell beer that the legislature never intended," Robert Hoffman, attorney for the distributors' group, said before the court.

As the justices debated the merits of the case, some pointed to fact that in the not to distant past, these businesses did not have the legal right to sell alcohol. Justice Seamus McCaffery went as far as calling the Sheetz location simply "a gas station," reported the Altoona Mirror. In Sheetz defense, Justice Debra Todd said the store was more than her colleague asserted, adding, "They sell creme brulee."