Mark F. Flaherty, Partner and R. J. O’Hara, Partner

PA Supreme Court ruling: Grocery stores can sell alcohol

In News by Flaherty & O'Hara

Grocery stores with established restaurant operations within them have full legal right to sell beer, wine and spirits, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled today.

The court ruled unanimously in favor of Wegman’s grocery store and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board after a three-year legal challenge led by the Malt Beverage Distributors Association of Pennsylvania, an industry trade group.

The MDBA challenged the right of grocery stores to use restaurant liquor licenses for use to sell beer, wine and spirits, arguing it’s against state law to allow grocery stores to sell beer over the established statutory right of beer distributors.

The ruling means grocery stores, including local operators such as Giant Eagle and Shop ‘n Save, can now freely obtain restaurant liquor licenses and use them to sell beer, wine and spirits by the glass within the confines of their in-store restaurants, along with two six-packs of beer for takeout. The law requires the in-store dining area have its own separate entrance from the rest of the larger store, a minimum of 30 seats and a kitchen area large enough to require health code licensing.

“We observe that licenses have been previously issued to restaurants in shopping malls and department stores, such as Boscov’s and John Wanamaker’s,” read the opinion of JudgeMax Baer. “While … this may foreshadow an expansion of the practice of large businesses opening restaurants within their facilities and seeking liquor licenses for them, given that the present state of the law permits this, it is for the Legislature, not this court, to determine whether to curtail such practice.”