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Legislators pop the cork on Sunday liquor sales |

Legislators pop the cork on Sunday liquor sales

| Sunday, December 15, 2002 12:00 a.m

The Wine and Spirit Shoppe near the Monroeville Mall, one of the busiest liquor stores in the Pittsburgh area, is an apt spot for the state to test Sunday liquor sales, according to Mark DeCario, of East Pittsburgh.

“I think they will be very busy,” DeCario said, predicting that traffic from Route 22 and nearby businesses will send plenty of customers in the store’s direction.

Figures from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board support him. The Monroeville store had $4.9 million in sales last year, including wholesale and retail sales to restaurants and taverns. The statewide average was $1.9 million per store.

State Sen. Sean Logan, a Monroeville Democrat, voted against the Sunday sales, but said he thought the Monroeville store was a good choice because a cross-section of the population patronizes the store.

“I was glad to see they didn’t choose a liquor store in Oakland,” Logan said. “College students don’t need additional avenues to get alcohol. It appears (the LCB) did their due diligence to find the stores to open on Sunday. They did not just use the most profitable stores. I did not want to see stores where Sunday sales could contribute to more social problems.”

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board popped the cork on Sunday sales of wine and liquor by picking 60 wine and spirit stores across the state that will be open from noon to 5 p.m. Sundays, starting Feb. 9. Legislation signed this week by Gov. Mark Schweiker allows about 10 percent of the 638 state-owned stores to operate on Sundays for the first time in the board’s 68-year history.

Eight of the stores are in Allegheny County, including one in Monroeville and one in Shadyside, and one each in Butler, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

Pat Maloney, of Plum, said Sunday liquor sales will fit into his schedule because he works through the week and does his shopping on weekends.

Traffic from the Monroeville Mall will help feed business to the Mall Boulevard liquor store, Maloney said.

People who do not live near a store with Sunday hours are not so sure the state made the wisest choices.

Drew Melby, who lives in northern Butler County, said he would likely have to make do with grape juice if he found himself without a bottle of wine on Sunday. He is about an hour from the closest state store with Sunday sales.

“They should have done a better job of spreading the stores out,” he said. “I’m not going to drive an hour for a bottle of wine on Sunday.”

In all, the Liquor Control Board picked stores in 24 of the state’s 67 counties. Montgomery County had the highest concentration with 11 stores, Allegheny was second. Twenty-four of the stores are in the greater Philadelphia area.

Donna Pinkham of the Liquor Control Board said sales volume, proximity to state borders and regional demographics were considerations for store selection. For Pittsburgh area residents, Maryland is the closest state with Sunday liquor sales.

Lois Sprague said there might be times when she needed to pick up a bottle of wine for a dinner party on Sunday.

She said she thought the Monroeville store would be a good test for the two-year program because of the traffic and nearby stores.

Sprague said she probably will not shop for wine or liquor on Sunday. “I don’t even go shopping on Sunday. But there may be times when someone needs a bottle of wine for dinner.”

Bethel Park resident Pat Pholar said she was not sure Sunday sales are a good idea.

“Do we really want everything open 24 hours per day, seven days per week?” said Pholar, a therapist who counsels alcoholics and drug addicts.

Jonathan Newman, chairman of the Liquor Control Board, said the first proposal for Sunday sales called for opening half of the state’s stores, but there was not enough support for that in the General Assembly. Nor was there support for opening 20 percent of the stores.

He said the decision on whether to open stores in areas that would trigger controversy — such as an economically depressed neighborhood — was taken out of his hands because of the 10 percent limit set by the legislation. He said some stores were chosen because of sales being lost to New Jersey and Maryland, which allow Sunday sales of wine and liquor.

The Liquor Control Board also stipulated that a store had to have sales of at least $2.5 million per year to be considered for Sunday hours.

“We looked at stores that had high gross sales and high Saturday sales, which established a weekend shopping pattern,” Newman said.

Newman said two stores, one near Johnstown and one near Altoona, did not meet the criteria but were slated for Sunday sales because of their geographic location.

“It did not make sense to deprive a fairly large population of the service,” Newman said.

The Monroeville store had $4.9 million in sales for fiscal year 2001-02. Among the 11 local stores slated to be open Sundays, the one at Waterworks Mall near Aspinwall is the busiest, with $8.34 million in sales last year. The Waterworks store is the second busiest in the state, according to state figures.

Sunday liquor sales are banned in 27 states — including New York, Ohio and West Virginia — and the District of Columbia. Oregon passed a law in February permitting Sunday sales of liquor, and other states, including New York, Virginia, Washington and Delaware, are considering Sunday sales.

Newman said two or three more stores might be opened for Sunday sales. He did not say where the additional stores might be opened.

Pennsylvania is the country’s largest purchaser of alcoholic beverages and limits liquor sales to state-owned stores.

In fiscal 2001-02, Pennsylvania’s 638 liquor stores generated $120 million in profits on $1.2 billion in gross sales.

Newman said he hopes Sunday sales combined with other efforts will raise sales by 5 percent.

Roy Reinard, a former Republican state representative from Bucks County, introduced the legislation that recently passed.

“You can go to Heinz Field and get sloshed in the parking lot, but you can’t get a bottle of wine to have with pasta,” Reinard said.

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