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Armstrong distributors fear expanded beer, wine sales

| Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 1:21 a.m.
Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times
Fred Sacco, owner of Armstrong Beer Distributing Company, South Jefferson Street, Kittanning, said on Tuesday, March 25, 2014, that he is leery of a liquor reform bill in the General Assembly which could vastly expand carry-out wine sales, allow shoppers to buy beer in more stores and in different package sizes, and maintain state stores but give them flexibility in hours and pricing.

David Vasbinder fears the end could be coming for his business, Ford City Drive-Thru Beer, if lawmakers expand the locations where beer and wine can be sold in the state.

A liquor reform bill in the General Assembly could vastly expand carry-out wine sales, allow shoppers to buy beer in more stores and in different package sizes, and maintain state stores but give them flexibility in hours and pricing, according to a proposal by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County.

Vasbinder has been operating his business on Fifth Avenue for eight years. He said the proposed law could eliminate the need for small beer distributors.

“I've been able to make a good living for my family,” Vasbinder said. “Large retailers, like Wal-Mart and Rite Aid, have buying power that we don't have. They'll sell it cheaper than we can afford to, and it's going to put us out of business.”

Republican lawmakers hope to get the bill on Gov. Tom Corbett's desk before the July 1 budget approval deadline.

Pileggi's proposal allows customers to buy as many as four 750-milliliter bottles of wine at restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, convenience stores and beer distributors. An initial fee of $10,000 is proposed for wine licenses.

It would allow beer distributors to sell unlimited numbers of 64-ounce bottles called growlers, six-packs and 12-packs under the proposal, and restaurants, hotels and grocery stores could sell as many as 18 12-ounce beers per purchase. The law now requires distributors to sell no less than 24 12-ounce beers per purchase, and sales at other establishments are either outlawed or significantly restricted.

Vasbinder said that while distributors have wanted to sell growlers, six-packs and 12-packs for years, the cost of retooling stores in time to compete with other retailers would be prohibitive if the law is passed.

Also, the upfront and yearly fees to sell wine may not be worth it to distributors in the long haul, he said.

“There's no way we could sell enough wine in Ford City each year to cover that cost,” Vasbinder said. “With all the new equipment and remodeling to fit it in here, we'd basically have to start over.”

Vasbinder isn't the only one worried about potentially losing jobs over restructuring beer sales in Pennsylvania. Fred Sacco, owner of Armstrong Beer Distributing on South Jefferson Street in Kittanning, said the proposed law could cost the state thousands of jobs.

He forecasted sales at the state's 1,300 beer distributors would drop enough to force owners to reduce the number of people they employ if the law is passed.

“Larger retailers aren't going to be hiring more people because they're adding beer sales in their stores,” Sacco said. “I'm not trying to speak badly of large retailers, but, my goodness, they have 300,000 other things they could sell — do they really need to sell beer to survive?”

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1337, or bpedersen@tribweb.com.

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