The Pennsylvania Supreme Court declined to shake up the way beer is sold in the commonwealth yesterday, ruling that a Sheetz store in Altoona cannot sell beer to-go unless it's also served for on-site consumption.
The court took a long drink from the state's liquor laws and -- more than a year after hearing arguments on the case -- determined by a 5-1 vote that although the specific language is vague, the writers of the state's laws on beer distribution did not intend for convenience stores to sell suds.
"While a policy determination may well be accomplished by our legislature, it is not our role to sanction such a momentous transformation," Justice Max Baer wrote in the majority opinion.
The ruling will cause a minor transformation at the flagship Sheetz store in Altoona, where beer will be served to go and to stay, said company general counsel Mike Cortez. He said he is not sure if the store can change its policy immediately to allow drinking in the restaurant area or if it will have to reapply for a new type of liquor license.
"[Customers] have been extremely supportive," Mr. Cortez said. "Our customers wanted the convenience of buying beer at the store."
The store began selling take-out six-packs in 2004 after the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board granted it an "eating place malt beverage license."
The Malt Beverage Distributors Association objected, claiming that such licenses are meant for bars and eating establishments that primarily serve beer to in-house patrons -- which the Sheetz did not do. The group argued that the store had become a beer distributor free of the state's regulations that distributors sell only by the case or keg.
The Supreme Court agreed, upholding a 2007 ruling by Commonwealth Court.
Bob Hoffman, an attorney for the distributors association said the ruling could affect other pending cases pushing for an expansion of establishments allowed to sell beer. In February, Commonwealth Court ruled that the Wegmans supermarket chain could sell six-packs, and the distributors association appealed that decision to the Supreme Court.
The PLCB, in both cases, sided with the stores and an expanded notion of who can sell beer.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Daniel Malloy can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1731.