The Malt Beverage Distributors Association (MBDA) is, and has been fighting the whole idea of six-packs in supermarkets (and convenience stores) for years. I can't blame them -- it's not really fair that Wegmans can sell six-packs while distributors cannot -- but it's not really fair that we can only buy them in bars, either. I also question the wisdom of pursuing it at this point, when beer has been sold in some Pennsylvania supermarkets for over a year. I'll explain that in a moment. Meanwhile, here's what they had to say about it, from the MBDA website.
On April 14, 2010 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard oral argument in the Wegmans case. Representing MBDA was Robert B. Hoffman of Eckert Seamans law firm, who had successfully argued the Sheetz case for MBDA before the same Court in 2008.
Robert Heim of the Dechert law firm was brought in to argue on behalf of Wegmans.
It was an active court with the justices asking many questions of all parties. Those questions focused on whether it was sufficient that the Wegmans' Market Cafes qualify as a restaurant and whether the fact that they were part and parcel of and located within Wegmans made any difference. MBDA argued that the PLCB needed to look at the economic reality of the beer sales, which indicate that Wegmans Supermarket, not Wegmans Restaurant, is making the sales. Wegmans responded that it is within the PLCB's discretion to decide if interconnections between a supermarket and a restaurant disqualify a restaurant from holding a license to sell take-out beer. Wegmans [sic] contention is critical because, if correct, the standard of review that the Supreme Court must apply is to determine if the PLCB abused its discretion. The Supreme Court cannot simply substitute its own judgment for that of the PLCB's. However, if as MBDA contends, the issue is not one of abuse of discretion but simply whether or not the Liquor Code allows supermarkets to sell beer, which is what Wegmans Supermarket is doing, then the Supreme Court can apply its own analysis of whether or not the PLCB correctly interpreted the Liquor Code in reaching its decision to allow Wegmans to have a license.
MBDA made a very strong argument, both factual, during the multiple Wegmans hearings that stretched over two years and still continue today with regard to other supermarket chains, and legal, as to why Wegmans is not entitled to a license. We believe the Court will carefully consider all the issues raised and issue its decision by late 2010.
I grew up in Lancaster County, so let me use a farm analogy. The MBDA is locking the stable after their horse already ran away. Pennsylvanians have been buying beer at supermarkets for over a year. They have seen that the MBDA's arguments are hollow, bogus, bullshit. "Kids" aren't buying beer at supermarkets, children aren't irreparably freaked out by seeing beer for sale at supermarkets (any more than my nieces are in New York), drunks aren't hanging around the stores or running over people in the parking lot. What is happening is that beer distributors' businesses are slumping in value, because a large hole has been poked in their monopoly; people who wouldn't go into a bar to buy a six-pack are going into the Giant Eagle.
More importantly, if the MBDA should prevail in this court case, and the Supreme Court rules that these licenses are void...it will be a disaster for the MBDA. If you give Pennsylvanians beer in supermarkets for a year...and then take it away, I guarantee you, they'll be furious. Their legislators will hear about it, the newspapers will write about it, hell, I'll sing about it!
The MBDA should not have put all their eggs in the litigation basket. They should have been lobbying for the Legislature to fix up the very best deal that they could get. Instead...they're locking the stable door. Bad move. There were smarter plays to make. Winning may lose them everything.