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Sheetz officials explain efforts to sell beer in new Altoona location

Beer or not, Sheetz Inc.’s plans for a new superstore in Altoona are going forward, chairman Steve Sheetz said at a news conference Wednesday.
Sheetz called the news conference because of publicity surrounding the convenience store chain’s application for a beer license at the store that will open later this year. Sheetz doesn’t sell beer at any of its Pennsylvania convenience stores although it does at 86 stores in Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia where liquor laws are more lax.
Mike Cortez, Sheetz’ vice president and general counsel, said regulations governing the license to sell beer are subjective and depend on whether the store is deemed to customarily sell food and beverages.
That’s one reason why the gasoline pumps at the store will be on land controlled by a separate lease agreement from the rest of the store. Gas transactions will be handled at the pump only, because beer and gas can’t be sold at the same location under Pennsylvania law.
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board also will not issue a license to a grocery or convenience store. “We provided a list of what we’re going to sell at the store,” Cortez said. “Does this product meet the criteria or not — then we have to make the decision.”
Sheetz officials said they don’t want any beer to be consumed on the premises. They want to sell only single beers and six packs for take out. What remains is convincing the liquor board that the store is more akin to a fast-food restaurant and a convenience store.
“To be clear, the new concept does not require beer sales to be successful,” Cortez said. “We just think it would be great to offer customers one more service, one less stop, especially in conjunction with our new menu.”
The restaurant will be twice the size of a normal Sheetz convenience store and the food menu, which typically includes sandwiches, will be expanded to offer fried chicken, french fries, soups and salads. A coffee bar and Italian ices will also be test-marketed in the new store, which will seat 48.
“Food clearly will be the focus,” Sheetz said. “We have grown so much on the food side of the business.”
Sheetz is also building a convenience restaurant in Raleigh, N.C. North Carolina allows convenience stores to sell beer, but Sheetz doesn’t sell beer in its stores there.
The public can comment on Sheetz’ application for the license through March 10. Some people, including an Altoona pastor, the Rev. Gary G. Dull, oppose the move to sell beer.
Sheetz said the store will be careful not to sell to minors.
“This is the only location in the state of Pennsylvania that we are applying for a beer license,” Sheetz said. “Our motive is not to open the door for selling beer in our traditional convenience stores in Pennsylvania.”
And, unbeknownst to many, Sheetz has sold beer in Pennsylvania before. The company used to operate so-called stop-and-go shops, under the names of Sandwich Saloon and Chicken Charlies, several years ago.
PLCB spokesman Bill Epstein was noncommittal on the license.
“We’re going to look at the application, consider any comments, and make a decision,” Epstein said.