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Area grocers ready to add wine

March 22. 2013 11:48PM

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HANOVER TWP. - Beer is already on the shelves at Joe Fasula’s stores — and wine could be next.

Fasula has been following the efforts to privatize the state’s liquor stores, especially the passage Thursday of a bill in the majority Republican Pennsylvania House of Representatives to put licenses up for sale to, among others, supermarkets like his Gerrity’s chain.

“I’m pretty excited about it,” Fasula, vice president of the family-owned supermarkets, said Friday.

The bill next goes to the state Senate where it most likely will be changed before it comes up for another vote. Still, it’s the further along than previous legislation to get rid of the Depression-era system that restricted the sale of wine and spirits to state-run stores.

Three of the nine Gerrity’s stores in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties sell beer, and Fasula said he’d consider adding wine to all of the stores where space allows.

He already has a spot picked out at the supermarket along the Sans Souci Parkway in Hanover Township, where he opened what he described as the chain’s flagship beer store last September with an eye toward the privatization. “We built that with the intention that hopefully we’d be putting wine in there,” he said.

It would add to the selection and convenience for shoppers, something that’s missing in the state’s stores, Fasula said. “From a customer standpoint, the system that’s set up now is not consumer-friendly,” he said.

He’s likely to have competition from the Schenectady, N.Y.-based Price Chopper Supermarkets chain.

Mona Golub, vice president of public relations and consumer services for Price Chopper, said the company would be interested in obtaining a license if they become available. “Our business is all about serving customers with the products they are looking for,” Golub said.

The supermarket chain sells beer at its Edwardsville store and stores in New York. Wine is sold in select Price Chopper stores in Massachusetts.

Gerrity’s shopper Bud Brezinsky of Nanticoke backed the move toward dismantling the “antiquated” state store system.

“They should be able to sell wine right in the racks just like any other state,” he said. “It makes sense.”

Convenience mattered less to shopper Melissa McGovern, of Nanticoke, than did two topics she said she’s discussed with her husband Shawn: the state store employees who potentially will lose their jobs and her concern about alcohol sales to people under age 21

Store employees followed protocol that might have been a bit of a hassle for customers — in order to prevent underage sales — but the steps were something she said she “absolutely” supported.

Democratic opponents of privatization also are concerned about the loss of thousands of good-paying jobs and the greater availability of alcohol under the plan to shut down more than 600 state stores and auction 1,200 wine and liquor store licenses. Beer distributors would receive priority in the auction.

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who earlier this year presented a plan to privatize the system, proposed that the license sales revenues, possibly as high as $1.1 billion, be directed to public schools throughout the state.

Still awaiting a final outcome

Mark Tanczos, president of the state’s Malt Beverage Distributors Association, welcomed the debate and the bi-partisan attention given to small businesses owners, including him, who make up the organization.

Tanczos, a second-generation beer distributor in Bethlehem, said the lawmakers listened to the input from the association.

He acknowledged that the beer industry needs to improve, adding “We should be able to sell beer anyway a consumer wants to buy it.”

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