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Redesigned stores offered as alternative to privatizing Pennsylvania alcohol sales

| Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Jonathan Trout of Butler looks around the first revamped Fine Wine & Good Spirits store in the Pittsburgh region during its grand opening Tuesday at the Village at Pine in Allegheny County. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board hopes that features such as a wine-tasting area and a wine specialist on hand will attract customers.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
A customer examines a bottle of wine at the Fine Wine & Good Spirits store at the Village at Pine in Allegheny County.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Robert Zappa of Pine peruses an aisle of the first revamped Fine Wine & Good Spirits store in the Pittsburgh region during its grand opening on Tuesday. March 26, 2013, at the Village at Pine. The store features a wine-tasting area and an on-staff wine specialist.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Ashley Crothers, 26, of Moon selects a bottle of wine at the first revamped Fine Wine & Good Spirits store in the Pittsburgh region during its grand opening on Tuesday, March 26, 2013, at the Village at Pine.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Beth Malley, 48, of Wexford gets tips from clerk Michael Hueston on Tuesday, March 26, 2013, at the first revamped Fine Wine & Good Spirits store in the Pittsburgh region during its grand opening at the Village at Pine. The store features a wine-tasting area and a wine specialist on staff.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Karen Vance (from left) of Wexford, Roni Crist of Alison Park and Linda Celigoi of Pine sample wine on Tuesday, March 26, 2013, in the first revamped Fine Wine & Good Spirits store in the Pittsburgh region during its grand opening in the Village at Pine. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board hopes features such as a wine-tasting area and an on-staff wine specialist will attract customers.

A redesigned wine and spirits store could offer lawmakers and others who favor modernizing stores, rather than privatizing them, more ammunition as they debate how and where Pennsylvanians can buy wine and liquor.

The 10,000-square-foot Fine Wine & Good Spirits store, which opened Tuesday in the Village at Pine shopping center in Pine, is the first in the Pittsburgh region to feature the new shelving, frosted glass signs and pendant lights.

A center island houses cash registers, educational information and a tasting bar. Bob Tirk, a full-time retail wine specialist, said he will be in the store most days to help customers.

Still, not all consumers are won over by the concept.

Patty Walker of Gibsonia praised the store as “beautiful and user-friendly” as she browsed a wall of wines with her sister.

“However, as nice as this is, there would be many more like this if there were privatization,” Walker said. “In other states, a lot of stores are like this and have been for years.”

“We designed this store with the consumer in mind,” said board member Bob Marcus of Indiana. “Rebranded” stores throughout the state have had sales increase 20 percent to 35 percent because the new layout and design encourages shoppers to browse longer, he said.

“That will ultimately benefit the taxpayers of Pennsylvania through the agency's transfer to the General Fund,” Marcus said.

The new look and higher sales figures could bolster the position of lawmakers, particularly in the Senate, who have said they want to modernize the state's system, not dismantle it.

“It wouldn't shock me if you hear this in a speech on the floor of the Senate or a speech in the Law and Justice Committee,” said G. Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster. But for privatization supporters, “this is a philosophic question. ... It doesn't matter what you modernize. It's whether (selling alcohol) is a core function of government.”

The state House approved a privatization plan last week that would phase out 600 state stores and allow wine sales in grocery stores, along with beer, if the store has a restaurant license. It would give beer distributors the first chance to purchase 1,200 licenses that would allow them to sell beer, wine and liquor.

Shoppers browsing the revamped store, roughly double the size of the one it replaces in the Wexford Plaza Shopping Center, praised the new look.

“This is the nicest selection of wine anywhere. You could never find this in a grocery store,” said Linda Fitterer of McCandless. “Please, governor, think about what you're doing with the wine stores. It would be a great loss for everyone who loves wine to lose this.”

The LCB spent about $150,000 on new fixtures, such as shelves and the center island. Other upgrade costs were built into the store lease agreement, said Stacy Kriedeman, an LCB spokeswoman.

The redesigned stores are “a paradigm shift,” said John Eld, a member of the American Wine Society's Pittsburgh chapter. He said he remembers when customers chose products from a catalog at the state store and a man behind the counter brought it out.

“It's like going from a crank telephone to an iPad,” Eld said of the new design.

About 21 stores have been revamped, Kriedeman said. One more redesigned store is set to open in Monroeville at the end of April, and the agency is working to finalize a lease agreement for a new store to be built on Blue Spruce Way in Murrysville, replacing the store on William Penn Highway.

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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