Weis gets liquor license Council president votes no, says it will discourage actual restaurants from coming to Lititz
By: GARY P. KLINGER Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer
Weis Market in Lititz received its liquor license Tuesday night, clearing the way for the local grocery store to begin serving beer and selling six-packs.
With the exception of council president Karen Weibel, who voted no on the measure, Lititz Borough Council approved a resolution supporting the transfer of a liquor license from Lancaster to the Weis store on South Broad Street.
The decision followed a public hearing attended by approximately 25 people.
Lititz becomes the first Weis store in the county to feature beer sales. Plans call for the store to begin serving at its existing café. In addition, the cafe will sell six packs to the general public.
Under regulations imposed by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB), the store would need to add a new, separate entrance from the outside into the café area. Strict limits would mean customers could only buy two beers during a café visit, and only two six packs. Regulations require specific standards for separating the café from the rest of the store. And, six packs could only be purchased through the café. The bar-codes will not scan at any other cash register in the store.
Mark Kozar is an attorney with Flaherty and O’Hara, a legal firm based in Pittsburgh which specializes in dealing with liquor licensing. He was present at Tuesday’s hearing, representing Weis. Dave Gill, also in attendance, is the director of architecture for Weis.
Weis is a publicly-traded company founded in 1912, with 162 stores five states, Kozar explained. The company has 250 employees at its Lititz store.
“Weis Markets as a reputation for excellence, and has too much to loose to serve alcohol in a haphazard manner,” Kozar said. “Locally, we just completed a multi-million dollar expansion of our store, adding 12,000 feet, an expanded deli, bakery and café with seating for 32.”
He said that initially the store would sell only beer, but suggested wine sales may be added in the future. He explained that the local store would sell beer only in the store’s café, discretely located in the front left corner of the building. The café would always be fully staffed, which would include a café manager who will have Pennsylvania State Police Liquor Management training. Such training would equip the manager and staff to be vigilant for possibly intoxicated customers, carding 100 percent of the customers, as well as what to look for while monitoring security cameras, assisting with surveillance of the café and parking lot areas.
“The bottom line is,” Kozar continued, “Weis seeks to be a responsible owner with a significant investment in our store, protected by well-trained management and employees.”
Council member Shane Weaver confirmed with Kozar that there would be strict limits to the amount of beer that could be purchased at the store.
One concern raised by Mayor Ron Oettel was the possibility of customers purchasing their limit, then coming back into the store to purchase more.
Kozar agreed that this is possible, but not likely.
“As long as they are not visibly intoxicated, there is nothing to prohibit someone from buying two, then coming back in for two more,” he said. “But why wouldn’t you just go to the beer distributor if you were trying to buy any quantity of beer? It would be cheaper to just buy the case.”
“Why Lititz?” asked council member Doug Bomberger.
Gill explained that the decision to locate such an operation at the Lititz store was made based on a number of factors, including demographics, customer demand and the fit for such an operation within the newly renovated store, which he called prototypical of Weis stores either being built or recently built.
“What about passing alcohol off to under-aged people in the parking lot?” asked Weibel.
“Quite frankly, they would be breaking the law,” Gill responded.
Of those from the public weighing in, the feedback was mixed.
Downtown business owner Todd Dickinson is also a member of Venture Lititz. He was strongly opposed to the license transfer because he felt it would hurt the downtown district by potentially limiting the ability of future eateries downtown from getting a liquor license.
Weibel said that was a key factor in her opposition vote.
“I felt this was a waste of a restaurant license,” she said in a follow-up interview after the meeting. “Weis’ primary business is selling groceries, not operating a food service. The license criteria are clear — the main purpose of the establishment is supposed to be food service. If supermarkets, convenience stores and other entities buy the remaining restaurant licenses, they will drive up the price of the remaining licenses, cutting out true restaurants. This will make it more difficult for independent, as well as chain restaurants, to establish themselves. At the end of the day, I don’t think this is good for our local economy.
“Having said that, I personally have no objection to beer/wine sales in supermarkets; it’s the way in which they are working the system to their advantage, stretching the definition of ‘restaurant ,’ that I object to.”
She also thought the applicant was being disingenuous when talking about the ability to obtain a new license on the basis of economic development.
“Those can only apply to an establishment that is located in a state-sanctioned Keystone Opportunity Zone,” she said. “Lititz has never adopted such a district.”
Local resident Joe White, on the other hand, was in favor of the upcoming changes at Weis.
“I think it would be a good thing,” he said. “I like it for the convenience. I work all kinds of hours, and my wife will not go to a bar or beer distributor to buy beer. I think most people in Lititz can be responsible. I like the idea!”
Prior to the start of beer sales, the new outside entrance to the café will need to be added to the building, and certain aspects of the store moved around to create a more effective buffer between the grocery store and café.
Record Express Associate Editor Stephen Seeber contributed to this report. More BOROUGH COUNCIL, page A18