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Yorkers on board with loosened liquor laws

Greg Gross
  • The bill would allow wine sales in licensed restaurants, bars, hotels, supermarkets and delis.
  • It also would codify into law the sale of beer at convenience stores that has begun as a result of court cases.

Quick 6 Beer & Food in West York might have to consider changing its name to Quick 6 Beer, Food & Wine after lawmakers voted Tuesday to loosen the state's stringent liquor laws.

The lawmakers in the House voted overwhelmingly and abruptly on a measure, House Bill 1690, that would allow groceries and other outlets to sell takeout wine and formalize beer sales in convenience stores that began as a result of court cases.

"I didn't hear anything like that, but I'm all in favor," said Richard Herman, owner of Quick 6, of the prospects of being afforded the option to sell wine. "We get asked all the time for it."

But there is a caveat for six-pack sellers such as Quick 6. If they want to sell wine, they'd have to upgrade to a full restaurant liquor license.

The House voted 157-31 to send the proposal to the desk of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf after a debate in which members said the changes carried considerable public support. All the representatives from York County voted in favor.

"This was really a piece of legislation built on the basis of compromise," said Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City. "I think it's safe to say it's certainly part of an overall budget package."

What it does: The bill that passed the Senate in December — with most Democrats opposed — would let some 14,000 holders of takeout beer licenses sell up to four bottles of wine to a customer. It also would allow takeout wine sales in licensed restaurants, bars, hotels, supermarkets and delis.

Another provision would let casinos serve alcohol around the clock instead of just for 19 hours a day, as allowed under current law. Wineries would be allowed to send products directly to Pennsylvania customers.

Representatives touted the bill as modernizing the state-run liquor system and a step toward full privatization.

“We think this puts wine into the private sector, like consumers have been looking for for years,” House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana County, told reporters. He noted it will produce about $150 million in new revenue.

"There are certainly other components to it that will help modernize the system, but overall we view this as the first step to fully privatizing our liquor system in Pennsylvania,” Reed said.

Wolf in July vetoed a GOP-crafted privatization bill, saying at the time he'd prefer modernizing the system instead of selling off state liquor store assets. That was the closest the Republicans ever got to privatizing liquor, despite holding a majority in the General Assembly and having a party ally in the governor's office the four years former Gov. Tom Corbett served there.

Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Hellam Township, said it was never one thing that kept a privatization bill from being signed into law under Corbett's watch. But he added he hopes the bill passed Tuesday becomes law.

"I hope he (Wolf) does" sign it, Gillespie said. "There was certainly a large buy-in to get it passed."

Wolf issued a statement calling the measure “historic liquor modernization legislation that provides greater customer convenience” and promising to review the bill “to ensure it meets my goals of enhancing the customer experience, increasing much-needed revenue to help balance our budget and bringing our wine and spirits system into the 21st century.”

Level the field: Herman said he hopes the bill will make up for income he lost after the state last year allowed beer distributors to sell 12-packs of beer, cutting into his business. Previously, distributors were only allowed to sell beer by the case.

"It cut down on sales," he said of that change.

The problem he foresees is where to stock wine in his store that already can't carry all of the beer on offer.

"We'd have to do it in a limited variety," he said.

Opposition: The bill, backed by 46 Democrats, drew strong objections from the head of the union that represents state liquor store clerks.

“We’re opposed to it and think it’s crazy that we would do this,” said Wendell Young IV, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776. “Of course we’re used to crazies in the Republican Party, but we’re not used to Democrats joining the crazies. There must be some sort of virus in the building.”

The changes will not affect sales of hard liquor or result in the closure of Pennsylvania’s roughly 600 state-owned stores, but Young warned it will undermine the finances of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

Supporters have said supermarkets and big-box retail stores would likely purchase takeout licenses from current holders or the state. The proposal also would give state-owned stores more latitude about setting hours and which products they stock.

— Reach Greg Gross at or on Twitter at @ggrossyd.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.