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GetGo to open contested beer cave in Elizabeth

| Friday, May 30, 2014, 10:27 a.m.

Giant Eagle Inc. says it will open on Monday its first GetGo convenience store in Pennsylvania to offer beer, a move distributors say is illegal under state law and could be challenged in court.

The store, at 1000 Hayden Boulevard in Elizabeth, Forward Township, will offer more than 100 domestic, craft and imported beers in a walk-in beer cave that will be open seven days a week.

While the store is a first for Giant Eagle, the Sheetz convenience chain sells beer at one store in Altoona, and there may be independent gas stations licensed to sell beer in what may be considered convenience stores.

Traditional beer distributors are threatened by such moves from Sheetz, GetGo and others, and Mark Tanczos, president of the Malt Beverage Distributors Association, said his trade group could challenge Giant Eagle's action. He said the association has a case pending in the state Supreme Court to block plans by Altoona-based Sheetz from selling beer at a second location — in Shippensburg. A Sheetz spokesman could not be reached.

“We've contested that on the basis that someone selling liquid fuel is prohibited under state law from selling beer from the same location,” Tanczos said. “Somebody like Sheetz or GetGo would have to return their license.”

Charles Caputo, an attorney for the association who is handling that case, could not be reached.

Giant Eagle said 38 of its supermarkets in Pennsylvania are licensed to sell beer. Those stores have restaurant areas required by law where customers can purchase and take home up to two six packs of beer, or enjoy two beers with an in-store meal.

O'Hara-based Giant Eagle, the 33rd largest privately held company nationwide with $9.9 billion in sales, operates 227 supermarkets and 190 GetGo gas stations and convenience stores in western Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland.

“Customers in other areas where we have GetGo stores have long appreciated the additional convenience of being able to purchase beer,” said Giant Eagle spokesman Daniel Donovan. “While we have an interest in introducing beer at future Pennsylvania GetGo locations, there are currently no confirmed plans to do so.” It has 91 GetGos in the state.

The state has issued about 200 licenses that allow grocery stores, mini marts or gas stations to sell beer, said Stacy Kriedeman, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. How many are convenience stores connected to gas stations wasn't available.

Sheetz won the right to sell beer in Altoona after overcoming legal hurdles over five years. That location was built to comply with state law, which requires the beer to be sold in an area that is separated from the rest of the store.

“I would love to put beer in every store,” Chairman Stan Sheetz has said. The company operates 460 stores in six states.

The new GetGo will offer meal options at a 36-seat indoor cafe and a 15-seat outdoor cafe. The GetGo was built on a Forward Township site where Payday's Super Market and a Giant Eagle supermarket once operated. Hayden Boulevard is also known as Route 51.

Gas stations would gain the ability to sell beer under a liquor privatization bill approved by the state House last year.

In January 2013, Gov. Tom Corbett introduced a plan to privatize wine and liquor sales and expand where customers can buy beer. It would allow distributors to sell beer in packages smaller than a case and would offer them the chance to sell wine and liquor. Grocery stores could sell six bottles of wine and up to a 12-pack of beer. Convenience stores could sell one six-pack.

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