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PLCB considers allowing beer sales at store

| Thursday, May 21, 2009, 12:00 p.m.

People might soon be able to buy a brewski at Giant Eagle in the Village at Pine.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is considering the supermarket's request for a liquor license, which would allow it to sell six-packs and individual bottles of beer in its on-site restaurant.

Township of Pine Board of Supervisors on May 4 voted to grant Giant Eagle's request for a liquor license transfer, with Vice Chairman Phil Henry abstaining. Local beer distributor owners say the move will hurt their businesses.

Giant Eagle opened a new store in the Village at Pine in February. The corporation's attorney, Stan Wolowski, said a partition would separate the proposed restaurant from the grocery store. Beer -- up to 192 fluid ounces or two six-packs per transaction -- must be paid for in the restaurant and cannot be taken into the store.

Wolowski says beer sales are expected to be minuscule. The 45 employees will be trained using the state Liquor Control Board's Responsible Alcohol Management Program.

Many Giant Eagle stores in Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland hold restaurant liquor licenses.

Last year, a New York-based grocery chain, Wegmans Food Markets, was issued liquor licenses for several of its Philadelphia-area stores. The Malt Beverage Distributors Association of Pennsylvania filed a suit, claiming the licenses violated state beer sales rules.

In February, the Commonwealth Court approved the sale of beer at Wegmans' onsite cafes.

Linda and Andy Chomos, owners of Wexford Beer Distributors, said Giant Eagle's decision to add a restaurant circumvents a state law that prohibits beer from being sold in supermarkets.

The couple argued that Pine already has four privately owned beer distributors that, by law, can only sell beers by the case, and one specialty six-pack shop. Many bars and restaurants in the township also sell to-go six-packs.

"Beer is not a grocery product. It should not be considered as such," Linda Chomos said. "Beer sales should remain in a controlled environment."

A 2001 amendment to the Pennsylvania Liquor Code allows liquor licenses to be transferred from one municipality to another within county borders, but a public hearing and local government approval are required before the move can take place.

Pine's board approved Ichiban Cuisine's request for a liquor license transfer.

The company plans to open a fourth in the Village at Pine. More information is available through the company's Web site, www.ichibanhibachisteakhouse.com .

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