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Sheetz Rallies for Beer Sales

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Earlier this week, 215 employees of convenience store chain Sheetz Inc. were bused here to rally -- with pay -- in support of a bill to reform the state Liquor Code to let supermarkets and c-stores sell beer over the counter without allowing on-premises consumption, the Altoona Mirror reported.

"Maybe it will work," Sheetz Chairman Steve Sheetz said in the report, and he thanked employees for volunteering for the trip. "It's only been 40 years."

Sheetz and supporters of having c-stores and grocers sell beer argue that consumers want it, said Steve Sheetz, who cited surveys showing 70 percent are in favor, while presenting legislators with 125,000 signatures advocating reform.

Sheetz previously sold beer at its largest Altoona, Pa., store, but lost the privilege after the state Supreme Court ruled against the company in a suit filed by beer distributors.

A new initiative proposed by State Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, would circumvent that ruling while appeasing opponents by freezing the number of licenses, requiring merchants to card everyone and lifting quantity restrictions on sales by distributors, restaurants and bars, according to the report.

Opponents claimed that allowing convenience stores and grocers to sell beer would see alcohol venues proliferate, more minors buying it illegally and an increase in problem drinking, the report stated.

But there's no evidence of these claims, according to Randy St. John, senior vice president for the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association, which sponsored the rally -- citing data collected by the Commonwealth Foundation in states without strict controls. By not increasing the number of licenses in the state, the proposed reform would prevent venue proliferation, St. John said, adding allowing distributors to sell six-packs, and restaurants and bars to sell cases, would grant those retailers privileges they've sought.

Mandatory carding of every customer -- with the help from card verification machines -- might cause "huffing and puffing" from some customers, but would set to rest concerns about serving minors, Weis Markets spokesman Dennis Curtin said in the report.

And Sheetz has a history of successful beer sales in the other five states in which it operates, Steve Sheetz said in the report.

Despite these claims, Pennsylvania Malt Beverage Distributors Association President Davis Shipula believes the changes would put him out of business. The owner of a distributorship with a few employees, Shipula can't compete with supermarket or convenience store chains that can get volume discounts.

Meanwhile, State Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair told the paper he wouldn't vote for the proposal in its current form because it's too broad in scope.

He thinks there will be he reforms, but more limited than the three-pronged proposal, which calls for code alterations connected with packaging, sales related to gasoline and barriers between areas for beer and for other items, the report stated.

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