If you want to know the most popular wines in Pennsylvania, check out the new sections in the Bensalem and Fairless Hills ShopRite stores.
The two locations were among the first wave of grocery stores statewide to obtain a permit to sell wine. The stores received approval two Mondays ago, and were stocked before the week was over.
“We knew we could get approved at any time, and as soon as we got the permission we jumped on it,” said Jeff Brown, president of 13 Brown Shop Rite locations in the region. “We ordered 100 of the top-selling wines in the state store system to start.”
Brown’s stores were among the first wave of approximately 80 permits granted statewide this month. Gov. Tom Wolf signed the liquor reform bill, House Bill No.1690, on June 8, which allows for the licensees “to sell wine-to-go until 11 p.m. on Monday through Saturday, and on Sundays if the holder holds a Sunday sales permit.”
The Brown ShopRites were two of just four stores in Bucks County that were granted permits in the first week, and the only ones in Lower Bucks; the others are in Doylestown and New Hope. Brown believes they made the first round because the stores already had restaurant licenses and could sell beer.
Businesses holding a permit can sell up to 3 liters of wine — the equivalent of four bottles at 750 ml each — in a single transaction under the new law. Additionally, businesses cannot sell wine at a price lower than the price at which it purchased the product from the PLCB.
The pricing restrictions mean that, currently, Brown and others are barely making any money on the deal: Right now, stores are purchasing the bottles at a 10-percent discount from consumer pricing, plus an 8-percent sales tax on purchases and a $2,000 annual fee for the license to sell it.
There’s also an extra charge as well for businesses who have the wine delivered. So for now, Brown’s businesses are calling in orders to the state stores across the streets from their locations, then sending over a truck to pick up the purchases.
“The margin is very low and that could be a problem, but it’s early yet,” said Brown. “There are a lot of moving parts, and I believe over the long haul we’re going to to have to figure out an equitable pricing system. But we wanted to get started and get into the business.”
He expects to recoup the sales tax at the end of the year, and for now is looking at the sales more as a convenience to his customers rather than a major moneymaker.
“Our main interest is that people want to pick out their wine out when they pick their meal. This affords them the opportunity to buy them together, and they go together.” said Brown. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback, a lot of customers have told us how convenient it is. They’re already giving us requests for brands and varieties.”
That means that, hopefully soon, ShopRite will also stock wines made in the region. But for now, Brown is focusing on expanding the wine selection at each location, and also watching how the new laws unfold exactly.
“We still don’t fully understand all the varieties we’re allowed to buy, or the costs of some of the items. It’s going to take some time to get better pricing,” he said. “It’s still very new, and there are a lot of moving parts.”
Additional reporting by Melissa Komar