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PA looks at loosening beer law

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TEXT OF STORY

Stacey Vanek-Smith: If you want to buy beer in Pennsylvania, you either have to go to a bar or restaurant or go to a wholesaler, where you have to buy a whole case. But that might be changing. From the Marketplace desk of it's noon somewhere, Joel Rose reports.


Joel Rose: Prohibition ended in the rest of the country almost 80 years ago. But in Pennsylvania, you still can't buy liquor, wine or beer in convenience stores. Or even in grocery stores. So it's a little weird to walk into the prepared foods section at Wegman's supermarket in Collegeville, Penn. and find a bar, with wooden stools, flat-screen TVs, even chatty bartenders. Laura Dimitrio is having a drink after work:

Laura Dimitrio: If you look around, and you feel like you're in a bar. You don't feel like you're in a grocery store.

Technically, you're not. Wegman's also has a restaurant, which is why it's allowed to sell alcohol. Store manager Blane Forkell says Wegman's has been selling beer to go in Pennsylvania for more than a year.

Blane Forkell: Our customers have overwhelmingly told us that they enjoy the choice of being able to make a purchase and not have to buy a full case of product.

And Wegman's may be just the beginning.

John Rafferty: All I can say is, free my beer!

At a raucous news conference in February, state senator John Rafferty announced a bill that would allow grocery and convenience stores to sell six-packs.

Rafferty: Consumer friendly, consumer-friendly, consumer-friendly. That's what we're trying to do.

But Rafferty is running into bitter opposition from Pennsylvania's 1,300 licensed beer stores, which are only allowed to sell by the case.

Steve Benko: $32.80, please.

Steve Benko owns Doc's World of Beer in Philadelphia. He's worried about what reformed beer laws would mean for him and his six employees. And Benko warns that they could lead to more underage drinking.

Benko: If I get fined, it's my tail. I'm responsible for watching underage drinking. If it goes into grocery stores or convenience stores, I'm not sure that person behind the counter really cares about who's buying the beer.

Even if the beer bill does pass, Pennsylvania would still have some of the toughest liquor laws in the country. If you want to buy wine or hard stuff, state stores are your only option.

In Philadelphia, I'm Joel Rose for Marketplace.

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