Erie beer stores to sell six-packs, singles


New law will allow Pennsylvania beer stores to sell six-packs, singles, growlers starting Tuesday.

Selling beer was a little more straightforward when Bill Verno opened his first distributorship, Beer & Pop Discount Warehouse, in 1987.

Most of the beer came in cases or kegs, and a lot of it was Budweiser or other well-known domestic brands.

"We would sell 60 kegs a weekend for things like family reunions, summer picnics, college kids," Verno said. "It was a lot of draft beer because that was what was economical. Now we average probably two kegs a week."

Thirty years later, Verno and his wife, Shari, are rearranging displays at Erie Discount Beer, 1922 Buffalo Road, to promote the sales of six packs, four-packs, growlers, and individual bottles and cans. Though some are made by Budweiser, many others are microbrews that didn't exist when the Vernos started selling beer.

Starting Tuesday, beer distributors in Pennsylvania will be allowed to sell these smaller amounts of malt beverages. Until then, the smallest amount they can sell are 12-packs.

It's the latest in a series of recent changes that has opened up Pennsylvania's famously tight laws regarding alcohol sales. In August, grocery and convenience stores were allowed to sell wine and Pennsylvania residents were permitted to purchase wine and beer through the mail.

"In terms of the number of changes and the breadth of changes, this has been the most transitional year in Pennsylvania since prohibition," said Elizabeth Brassell, communications director for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

Verno, 61, said the most recent change could help some distributors like himself, who have seen beer sales decrease over the past 20 years. But he said other distributors could be harmed by the new law.

"I think it's going to hurt the smaller, drive-through distributors because they don't have room to expand for all the six-packs and four-packs," Verno said.

In an effort to accommodate the smaller products, Verno had to empty about half of his soda and grocery cooler, and fill it with beer.

He also plans to upgrade his security camera system to deter people from shoplifting single cans and bottles of beer.

"It's a lot easier to hide one can or bottle under your jacket," said Shari Verno, 52.

Bill Verno believes the investment will be worthwhile, reasoning that beer drinkers don't want to buy 24 cans or bottles of a beer they might not like.

In the past, the Vernos would suggest customers go to a local tavern and try a new beer before buying a case of it at their distributorship. Now they can sell them a single or a six-pack.

"The PLCB is trying to make everyone happy," Bill Verno said. "Distributors were hurting because people weren't buying cases and kegs, so we were allowed to sell 12-packs, and now we will be able to sell six-packs and single cans."

So new displays will be set up at Erie Discount Beer and more than 1,100 distributorships across Pennsylvania. The Vernos believe customers will walk into their store and buy the smaller amounts of beer.

But will it come at a cost?

"I'm cautiously optimistic," Bill Verno said. "I feel this can be a good thing, but you have to be careful about swapping smaller six-pack sales for larger sales. I don't want them to eat into our case sales."

"We need to keep our case customers happy," Shari Verno said. "We'll keep case prices as low as we can."