Camp Hill Giant could be first in borough to sell alcohol

Nearly 10 months after Camp Hill voters passed a referendum to drop the borough’s status as a “dry” town and allow alcohol sales, Giant Food Stores is finalizing plans to become the borough’s first retail outlet for beer and wine.

Colin Heap, Giant’s manager of special projects, said the company plans to start renovating its Camp Hill Shopping Center store in mid-April and open up a beer and wine section by June.

Giant was one of the leading voices pushing for the liquor change last year.

To make room for the booze, Cumberland County-based Giant will need to relocate some of its operations in the Camp Hill store, which is one of the supermarket chain’s largest.

For starters, Giant will remove a large seating area next to Starbucks so beer and wine displays can be installed. To maintain its 30-seat requirement for a restaurant liquor license, Giant will be moving those seats to an adjacent area used for prepared-food purchases. The company also will add bar seating outside of the store’s cooking school.

Giant plans to move the existing cash registers into another part of the prepared-food section. The store also will need to relocate its nutritionist’s office. 

Giant, which has been among the most active players in state auctions of expired restaurant liquor licenses, already sells beer and wine at nearly 60 stores across Pennsylvania, including at some stores operating under its sister brand Martin’s Food Market. The average beer and wine section at Giant stores is about 3,000 square feet.

With the proliferation of craft producers in Pennsylvania over the last few years, Heap said a major emphasis for the new Camp Hill beer and wine section will be stocking a larger selection of local beer and wine products.

Much of that craft growth has been aided by Pennsylvania’s recent loosening of longstanding restrictions on alcohol sales.

Among other changes, the Act 39 liquor law reform in 2016 allowed supermarkets and convenience-store chains to add wine sales to their existing beer sales. As a result, large chains like Giant have been converting liquor licenses or buying new licenses to expand their drinks menu.

Many of the recent licenses sold have been purchased through state auctions authorized created under Act 39.

Giant’s Camp Hill license was purchased through a private transfer, Heap said. The company declined to disclose the purchase price.

Cumberland County restaurant licenses are among the hardest to find in Pennsylvania, which also makes them very expensive. Giant spent $556,000 on a Cumberland County license at auction, the highest bid in the four state auctions held to date.

A fifth auction was announced in February.

Giant has outspent all bidders at auction, shelling out more than $8.1 million on its 30 winning bids so far, or an average of $270,057 per license.

Spokesman Chris Brand said the chain will remain “aggressive” in its pursuit of liquor licenses. Giant views the deals as continued investments in the community, he said, as it looks to become a one-stop shop for customers.

The company will open a beer and wine section this Friday at its East Manchester Township store at 205 Glen Drive. 

In addition to the license it is using in Camp Hill, Giant has 13 other licenses in safekeeping status, according to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. Safekeeping means the license is owned but is not being used at the present time.

Giant is not the only large company looking to grow alcohol sales. Altoona-based convenience-store chain Sheetz Inc. has purchased nearly three dozen licenses through state auctions.

Grocery chain Weis Markets Inc. also has been an active bidder, alongside convenience-store chains Turkey Hill and Rutter’s Farm Stores, which bids as CHR Corp.

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