Editorial: Giant Eagle six-packs benefit beer buyers

By Pitt News Staff

Sometimes we students are spoiled by convenience. In Oakland we have the choice to pick up… Sometimes we students are spoiled by convenience. In Oakland we have the choice to pick up six-packs of beer at a variety of stores around campus or to take a short walk to any one of a number of nearby beer distributors and buy a case. But for many people, the prospect of buying a six-pack means adding another stop to their shopping trip and often having to go out of the way to do so.

So the fact that a new Giant Eagle Market District store under construction in Robinson is applying for a license to sell six-packs should be exciting news, because it means that the dream of one-stop convenience shopping in Pennsylvania might finally be a little closer.

The Giant Eagle’s application for a liquor license is only the latest in a small string of supermarkets attempting to break into the six-pack market. The grocery store chain Wegman’s won a court case that upheld its ability to sell alcohol out of restaurants attached to their stores, and both Giant Eagle and Whole Foods stores across the state have attempted to follow suit.

The main opposition to this move comes from the Pennsylvania Malt Beverage Distributors Association, which believes that allowing restaurants attached to supermarkets to sell beer would cut into its profits and drive business away from distributors.

In a way, the MBDA has a point. Supermarkets, and the restaurants that are connected to them, often have more flexible hours than distributors do. Couple this with the facts that you can’t get a much better location than to be actually connected to a Giant Eagle and that most people are going to be more likely to buy a six-pack than a case, and you could potentially have a threat to the business model distributors thrive upon.

But for consumers, this is not a bad thing. Beer distributors have long taken advantage of Pennsylvania’s Byzantine liquor laws, which are nothing as much as a holdover from the state’s Puritan origins. The business model is encouraged by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s control’ of alcohol sales in the state — distributors and restaurants have to buy alcohol from the state off an approved list of products.

This is bad for both consumers and retailers because it drives prices up and keeps legitimate competition from emerging while taxing the entire operation heavily. It’s an outdated system that is only kept alive because it pays heavily into the state’s financial coffers — in 2007, the PLCB collected $1.67 billion and paid more than $487 million into Pennsylvania’s general operations fund.

Allowing stores like Wegman’s and Giant Eagle to sell six-packs isn’t going to change the fact that these stores still have to buy their beer from the PLCB, but it’s good in that it creates healthy marketplace competition that could, in theory, drive prices down. But the fact remains that alcohol from any of these sources is going to cost more than it would in other states thanks to heavy taxes and markups.

Allowing Giant Eagle stores to sell six-packs is a small step, but it is significant. It shows that the PLCB is evolving, albeit slowly, and that perhaps someday we’ll reach the point where consumers might be able to buy from private stores directly rather than through the state. But until then, at least we can get a few beers along with our groceries.