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Sunday hours for state liquor stores bring shoppers and protesters

Monday, February 10, 2003

By Lori Shontz, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The extreme views yesterday were that Pennsylvania had either taken a small step out of the dark ages or was backsliding toward bacchanalia.

Mecah and Tandra Potts of Clairton and Bill Brakeall of McKeesport are among those protesting the opening of state liquor stores on Sundays at the entrance of a shopping center at Wharton Avenue on the South Side. All three work at state liquor stores. (Pam Panchak, Post-Gazette)

But to Megan and Paul Burke of Mount Washington, the first day of Sunday liquor sales was nothing so profound. Rather, the launch of a statewide pilot program allowing Sunday sales in 61 state stores was a matter of convenience.

They go grocery shopping every Sunday, and yesterday afternoon they were able, for the first time, to buy their beverages, too. They did all of their shopping on the South Side, because the Giant Eagle and Wine and Spirits store are in the same shopping center.

"Now we can get the food for the week and the wine for the week," Megan Burke said. "It's just more convenient."

John Gorman, an Oakmont resident who usually works Mondays through Saturdays, was thrilled yesterday to be browsing in the premium wine selection at the Wine and Spirits Superstore at the Waterworks Mall, another of the eight stores in Allegheny County open for the first time on Sunday. He likes to take his time and inspect the possible choices when buying wine, and he's rarely been able to do that in liquor stores.

They have always been closed on his day off.

"This shows that Pennsylvania is coming into the 20th century, anyway," he said, fully aware that this century is the 21st.

Others saw the sale of spirits on Sunday as a step backward.

"I think, personally, we should go back to having nothing open on Sundays and having to spend time with your family," said Charles Windsor of Mt. Lebanon, who was protesting Sunday sales outside the store on Wharton Street on the South Side. "There would not be so much crazy stuff, kids running around and doing the kind of things they're doing. I'm old-fashioned, I guess."

Despite the protesters, however, the South Side store did a brisk business; it was even busier than manager Steve Hoferka had expected.

Edna McChester of Crafton, in fact, made a special trip to the South Side store along with her friend from Elliot Heights, Virginia Dorsey, because they thought it was important to support the pilot program, which will be re-evaluated in two years.

"It seems like in every other city you go to, there's liquor for sale on Sunday," McChester said. "I don't see anything wrong with it."

At the edge of the shopping center's parking lot, however, about 30 people were protesting Sunday sales, holding signs that said "Promoting Drinking Without Thinking" and "Sunday Liquor Sales, Monday Mourning."

The protesters, most of whom are liquor store employees, said they are concerned that increased opportunities to purchase alcohol will result in increased opportunities for underage youths to buy and consume beverages and increased casualties in alcohol-related traffic accidents. They also had a problem with being asked to work on Sunday.

The protest was organized by members of the Independent State Store Union, which represents managers. "We're in the business of the control and sale of alcohol," said Don Brown, one of the leaders. "Selling alcohol seven days a week, that's not something that I consider control."

Anthony Vizzoca of Shaler, whose uncle is the head of union, held a sign asking drivers to honk if they agreed with the protesters. Several drivers did beep on their way by, warming Vizzoca's heart on a cold day. "This shouldn't be a city of sin," he said.

And then there was Mark Henry, who doesn't work at a liquor store but heard about the protest on television. He showed up with copies of a handwritten letter he had written when the state Legislature was considering the bill.

"Dear Senator," it begins, "Suppose you're Osama bin Laden. What would you want the Pennsylvania General Assembly to do with regard to the issue of opening liquor stores on Sundays? Would you want it to kowtow to, and compromise with, the forces of evil so that our respect for the Christian Sabbath day is further undermined in the name of 'consumer convenience?'"

For most people, convenience was the key point, and one that they didn't see as a problem.

"It's good for the future, and the longevity of the LCB," said Richard Dervin, who has spent 26 years working at state liquor stores and was working a cash register at the South Side store. "You've got to go with modern times in the retail trade."

Dervin, like all of the clerks who worked yesterday, volunteered for the hours. The clerks are also receiving time and a half for working Sundays from noon to 5 p.m., something Brown said may change when the current contract expires on June 30.

At the Waterworks store, general manager Carl Hughes said 15 of the 17 clerks volunteered to work Sunday shifts. "I'm not a real big fan of working on Sundays," he said. "But it is consumer friendly. You have to change with the times."

Lori Shontz can be reached at lshontz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1722.

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