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    Future Unsure for Pennsylvania Wine Vending Machines

    Legal issues cloud year-long experiment of kiosks.

    HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Legal issues may end Pennsylvania's year-long trial of wine vending machines in grocery stores, according to a report by the Pennsylvania Independent.

    The kiosks, owned by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB), have been controversial and plagued by mechanical errors and poor sales, according to the report. Earlier this month, the PLCB released a letter to Simple Brands LLC, the operator of the vending machines, saying the company is owed nearly $1 million stemming from billing issues and threatening legal action if the state is not paid by Sept. 20.

    "There is an issue of non-payment," Stacey Witalec, an agency spokeswoman, told the Pennsylvania Independent.

    Thirty-two wine kiosks are operating. The PLCB had planned to open 100 locations, according to the report.

    Each dispenser was expected to sell between 30 and 50 bottles per day, Witalec was quoted as saying, but only 15 of the 32 kiosks reached the lower end of that goal.

    Since the beginning of May, only three kiosks exceeded selling 180 bottles in a single week -- one in Philadelphia two times, another in Collegeville three times and one in Pittsburgh once.

    Among the customer complaints coming in are: the driver's license reader did not work properly and no wine was dispensed. Those major issues have been repaired, Witalec said.

    Customers must blow into a breathalyzer and look into a camera where a government employee verifies his or her purchase, according to the report.

    Witalec said the kiosks were brought in "with the intention of trying to bring convenience and value" to Pennsylvanians, and help grocery stores be a one-stop shop, but noted that the concept was not for everyone.

    Recently Wegmans Food Markets pulled their wine kiosks from their stores, citing they did not fit in with the grocery store's environment.

    "Customers want the convenience of purchasing wine in a supermarket, but found the choice too limited in the kiosk," the company told the Pennsylvania Independent in a statement. "Also, our customers rely upon the knowledgeable, personalized service our employees provide every day, something an automated kiosk just cannot provide. In the end, the kiosks just did not fit well with our store environment."

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