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Wine-to-go makes debut at Robinson supermarket

| Friday, Aug. 19, 2016, 1:00 p.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Kitty Kon of Robinson browses the selection of wines at the Settler's Ridge Market District on Friday, Aug. 19, 2016.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
(From left) Giant Eagle CEO Laura Shapira Karet, state Rep. Dan Frankel, Erin Molchany (director of Gov. Tom Wolf’s southwestern Pennsylvania office), and Pa. House Speaker Mike Turzai help celebrate the Settler’s Ridge Market District becoming the first grocery store in Pennsylvania to begin selling wine Friday, Aug. 19, 2016.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Jack O' Neill of Kennedy Township and his wife Nancy look over the offerings of wines at the Settler's Ridge Market District on Friday, Aug. 19, 2016.

Under a shower of confetti and the popping of corks Friday, shoppers and public officials cheered a change more than 80 years in the making.

Officials proclaimed the Giant Eagle Market District store in Robinson as the first supermarket in Pennsylvania to sell wine directly to customers since Prohibition.

The store was among nearly 90 to receive its expanded wine license this week — made possible by a state law approved earlier this summer — and the first grocery store to use it. The permit allows shoppers to buy up to four standard-size bottles of wine to go.

“I thought this day would never come,” Giant Eagle CEO Laura Karet said. “This is an historic moment. ... None of us thought we'd be selling wine this soon after (the law) was approved.”

Act 39, signed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in June, allows grocery stores, restaurants and hotels that sell carry-out beer to apply for an expanded permit to add wine to their shops. The law makes more than two dozen other changes to state liquor laws, including expanding sales on Sundays and allowing wineries to ship directly to customers' homes.

The Giant Eagle at Settlers Ridge is rolling out its wine in stages, with an initial offering of 67 wines, said Brian McDole, senior director of beer, wine and liquor for the chain. Eventually, the store plans to stock more than 450 varieties across all price points and wine regions, he said.

Adding wine to grocery store cafes — at Giant Eagle locations and elsewhere — requires reconfiguring a limited amount of square footage licensed by the state Liquor Control Board to accommodate both beer and wine.

Although dozens of Giant Eagle locations have received a permit, McDole said it will be at least several weeks before other locations have wine on store shelves. The selection in each store will start with a base group of products with some tailored wines — based on shoppers' preferences — added at each location, he said.

As they pored over the red wines, Nancy and Jack O'Neill said they were thrilled wine has been added to grocery stores. The Kennedy Township couple popped into the store for ingredients to make homemade salsa but ended up browsing the wine display. Nancy O'Neill said she'll be watching how the prices in the market compare to the state store.

“When we go to the wine and spirits store, we generally purchase what's on sale,” she said. “That's the way I shop for groceries, too.”

Karet said Giant Eagle aims to offer the same prices as the state stores and, once all the dust settles, expects that private retailers will be able to offer the same promotions state stores do.

A spot check of wines at the Fine Wine and Good Spirits store in an adjacent shopping plaza, including Menage a Trois Red, Barefoot pinot grigio, Kendall Jackson Vintner's Reserve chardonnay and four varieties of Black Box wines, showed the prices were identical to Giant Eagle's.

For privatization advocates, the day was hailed as “momentous” and long-awaited.

“It's been a bit of a trek,” said House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, who has championed eliminating state stores and fully turning over wine and spirits sales to private businesses.

The House approved several privatization plans over the years only to stall in the Senate. And, from June 2010 to September 2011, wine was briefly sold in 32 grocery stores statewide through LCB-owned kiosks, but the program flopped.

“There were a lot of naysayers” who wanted to hold out for full privatization, Turzai said as he held a bottle of Santa Margherita pinot grigio he bought to take home.

He said that after talking to grocery store officials and getting assurances they could quickly implement wine sales, “that gave me and other members confidence that (Act 39) was a significant step.”

For those who have been less willing to privatize liquor sales, the move was heralded as a rare point of successful compromise.

“This is what was possible, and we got it done,” said Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill.

Privatization proponents believe the wine sales will gradually shift opinions in a state long known for its hesitancy to change alcohol laws.

Before Act 39, Pennsylvania and Utah were the only states to fully control the wholesale and retail sales of wine and spirits.

“I think people will have this experience, and they're going to say, ‘Wow,' ” Turzai said.

Daniel Shapira, a Downtown attorney who has worked on the issue for years with Giant Eagle and lawmakers, said the creation of a one-stop shop for groceries and alcohol soon will become second nature to shoppers.

“My expectation is this will be so popular, there will be political movement to expand this” to include hard liquor and larger licensed shopping areas in supermarkets.

“That's what people want,” Shapira said.

Kari Andren is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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