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ALTOONA, Pa. -- Beer is locked up in Pennsylvania and needs to be freed from archaic state liquor laws, Sheetz Inc. officials said Wednesday, in announcing it has started the Free My Beer campaign, an online and paper petition effort to urge lawmakers to allow beer sales at convenience and grocery stores, the Altoona Mirror reported.
The company and others have tried traditional lawmaker lobbying to change the laws, but it hasn't gotten the General Assembly's attention, so it's time to take the effort to the people, 70 percent of whom want expanded beer sales, company President and CEO Stan Sheetz said. "The sign-ups match the polls. They'll say yes. This is not rocket science. They just want to be able to buy beer in Pennsylvania where they want," he said. "Why is beer locked up like this? Nobody has a good reason for this."
The petitions will be sent to lawmakers.
State Rep. Rick Geist, of Altoona, and state Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., of Blair, each told the newspaper they have no opinion on whether beer sales should be expanded.
"I know in the past there has been a lot of push from people who don't want to do it," Geist said. "I haven't been lobbied about this for about a year."
Eichelberger said he has spoken with both Sheetz and the beer distributors association about the issue. "I need to see all the evidence," he said. "I think there will have to be some changes made, but this is a decision -- with a discussion and a lot of public hearings -- that needs to be properly made by the legislature. This is a decision that will affect too many people in Pennsylvania."
In addition to the petition drive -- part of a larger effort promoted by the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association -- Sheetz is continuing its effort to obtain an eating place malt beverage license for its convenience restaurant at 1900 Pleasant Valley Blvd., said Chairman Steve Sheetz. Ohio Springs Inc., a Sheetz subsidiary, lost its license to sell beer earlier this year after the state Supreme Court ruled that the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board improperly granted an eating place malt license for the corporation's convenience restaurant, the report stated.
Sheetz has since reapplied for the license, saying it will allow on-premises beer consumption as all eating place malt licensees must do as a result of the Supreme Court's ruling.
Beer sales expansion to grocery and convenience stores has been staunchly opposed by the Malt Beverage Distributors Association of Pennsylvania, which filed the lawsuit that stopped the sales at the Pleasant Valley Boulevard location.
"They're certainly free to do this," association Executive Secretary Mary Lou Hogan told the Altoona Mirror. "We have said and still say that it takes a legislative change to allow a supermarket or convenience store to sell beer in Pennsylvania. I think it was an end run around the Legislature through the PLCB in what the state Supreme Court called a loophole. Sheetz is simply acknowledging that."
In other Sheetz news, the retailer introduced itself to a new community yesterday as it opened a new location at 2100 West Front St. in Berwick, Pa. As part of the grand opening celebration, the company made a donation to The Berwick Area Little League.
"We have had a good relationship with our customers in nearby Bloomsburg and Danville, so we hope that we are able to provide the people of Berwick and the surrounding areas with the same top notch products and services," Stan Sheetz stated.
Sheetz yesterday also celebrated the opening of a new store at 1001 Gardner Hill Dr. in Greensboro, N.C., continuing the chain's efforts to plant stores in North Carolina. In recognition, the company made a donation to The Ragsdale Family YMCA.
"We are lucky to have such wonderful customers in North Carolina," Stan Sheetz said in a statement. "These communities have been so welcoming to us over the past couple years. We are excited to continue growth in this area."
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