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Greensburg grocery expands stock to include suds

| Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014, 5:05 p.m.

The Shop 'n Save store on East Pittsburgh Street in Greensburg will become the first supermarket in the city and the fifth in Westmoreland County to sell beer, part of a trend statewide.

“We're looking to give the customer the maximum shopping experience” so they can buy groceries as well as beer in one stop, said Mike Charley, owner of the Shop 'n Save store.

The East Pittsburgh Street store on Saturday will begin selling beer in single bottles and six-packs, seven days a week, Charley said. Seating is available for 30 customers, who can buy sandwiches and salads to eat while drinking beer in the 950-square-foot cafe, Charley said. An independent grocer with two Shop 'n Save markets in Greensburg, Charley said selling alcohol allows him to compete with larger supermarkets and chain stores.

Giant Eagle Inc. holds four of the restaurant licenses issued to supermarkets in the county. Its stores along Route 30 in Hempfield and North Huntingdon have been selling beer since 2010, and the chain's supermarkets in New Kensington and Allegheny Township have liquor licenses, too, Giant Eagle spokesman Dick Roberts said.

“The convenience and variety of the beers sold in our four Westmoreland County Giant Eagle locations have helped make the offering very popular with many customers,” Roberts said. The Giant Eagle stores have cafes where customers can eat and drink up to two 12-ounce beers in a single visit.

Another restaurant license has been issued to Jeff Ross, who plans to operate a Shop 'n Save store under construction at Norwin Town Square in North Huntingdon. Ross could not be reached for comment.

Statewide, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has issued nearly 200 licenses to supermarkets, said spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman.

“This is a growing trend” whose expansion will be restricted only by the limited availability of restaurant licenses that supermarkets must have to sell alcohol, said David McCorkle, president of the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association. The Wormleysburg-based trade group represents 1,100 retailers operating 4,000 stores.

“It's very difficult to obtain a restaurant license. There aren't that many available,” McCorkle said.

Even though the state has eased restrictions that had prevented the sale of beer in grocery stores since the days of Prohibition, McCorkle said the supermarkets are under the same restrictions as other bottle shops — customers are limited to buying a maximum of two six-packs at a time.

“We're still the only state that limits the six-pack sales. We're still driving a Model T (1920s model car) in this state,” McCorkle said, referring to the aged restrictions on alcohol sales.

While the sale of alcohol will generate more revenue for the supermarkets, it “certainly is a six-figure investment” to buy a liquor license, remodel a store for beer sales, pay more in liability insurance and employee wages and training costs, McCorkle said.

Charley declined to comment on the cost to add beer sales in the supermarket. The conversion of a section of the store from a bank branch to a cafe with coolers for beer was part of an overall renovation of the store, he said. The building permit filed in Greensburg's planning department for the renovations estimated the total cost at $500,000.

Charley said he believes beer sales at his Shop 'n Save can compete with the six-pack shops in the area.

To the Malt Beverage Distributors Association of Pennsylvania, that ability to sell beer by the six-pack has given supermarkets an unfair advantage over beer distributors, said Mark Tanczos of Bethlehem, president of the Philadelphia-based trade association. Distributors are limited to selling beer by the case.

It's a “slap on the wrist” in terms of a supermarket's profitability if it loses its alcohol license, said Tanczos, who operates a beer distributorship in Bethlehem. “They have 40,000 other products where they can make a living on.”

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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