Peter Vitale envisions a place in Lower Merion where local beer connoisseurs and novices alike can choose from a wide selection of craft, import and other specialty beers, when they want to take a break from the pricey beer cases or the easy Bud Light purchase.
“You can get a huge selection of wines from California to France, and vodkas now come in various flavors, such as cherry or even a cake flavor,” Vitale said. “The palete today seems to be leaning toward variety, so why not have a place that does that for beers?”
Vitale, who has owned a variety of Italian restaurants and pizza shops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, is putting stock on this variety trend for beers with a new store he’s opening in Ardmore – The Beer Shoppe.
The 59-year-old business owner will occupy the 2,700-square-foot vacant space at 44 Greenfield Ave in the Ardmore Plaza, previously a CVS store.
Vitale and his attorney Ken Butera, of Butera Beausang, Cohen and Brennan, issued a request to Lower Merion Township on Dec. 5, 2011 for an intermunicipal transfer of a liquor license from a restaurant in Norristown to the property in Ardmore Plaza.
Township Building and Planning Director Bob Duncan and the Board of Commissioners scheduled a public hearing for their Jan. 11 meeting, a common procedure for license transfers between municipalities of the same county.
“We must approve the use, but this decision does not relate to the liquor license,” Duncan said in an e-mail.
The board approved the transfer unanimously on Jan. 18, after commissioners postponed the agenda item for a week to consider addressing some concerns.
Commissioner Steven Linder, whose Ward 4 is near the proposed shop, expressed the worries of his residents, some of whom met Vitale at a Jan. 9 Ardmore Progressive Civic Association meeting.
Linder questioned what could happen when a person leaves the store, since according to Vitale’s concept for the shop, customers would be able to purchase and drink a bottle of beer they were potentially interested in on the premises. Lindner and Ward 4 residents also feared a customer could purchase beer and bring it to nearby Vernon Young Park.
At the meeting, it was also pointed out that a number of churches, playgrounds and pools were within a close proximity to the proposed beer store.
Vitale responded to the park-drinking concern that “anything is possible if someone wants to break the law,” and his business and prices would more than likely dissuade such behavior.
“Essentially, this transfer illustrated a few irregularities in the [Pennsylvania]LCB procedure and was viewed as a threat to the quality of life in the area,” Linder wrote in an e-mail.
Lindner explained the PLCB has greater flexibility to deny a permit than a local jurisdiction, such as Lower Merion in this instance, and that the PLCB’s definitions used for establishments are not “common sense.”
“If you sell hot dogs from a cart, you are considered a restaurant,” Lindner added.
Vitale thought the questions and concerns were legitimate but emphasizes that he isn’t proposing a bar. Customers would have to adhere to limits because he wouldn’t over-serve.
“I think this is going to be a real positive complement to the area,” the beer shop owner said. “It’s going to be a retail establishment, so closing time wouldn’t be 2 a.m.”
“I’m almost 60 years old, I want to make my life easier, not harder,” he laughed.
The board added amendments to the approval of the liquor license transfer to ease any apprehension. Under the resolution for the adoption of the license transfer, The Beer Shoppe’s hours of operations won’t begin before 10 a.m. or extend after 10 p.m, and the establishment won’t sell alcoholic caffeinated beverages like the controversial Four Loko.
Following this approval, attorney Butera said Vitale’s application was submitted to the PLCB, and that it would take five to seven weeks to hear on whether or not they given prior approval until an inspector saw The Beer Shoppe once Vitale and his contractors finished building.
“I can’t imagine why they would disapprove it, because everything is in order,” Butera said.
Vitale said he got the idea for the shop because there wasn’t any place like it in Lower Merion, and because the 25-40 age bracket and income demographics were consistent with those most interested in specialty beers.
He said the atmosphere would be akin to a supermarket, with Wawa-like refrigerators lining the walls, containing about 100 import, craft and specialty beers. Vitale couldn’t provide a list of specific beers because he’s still the process of talking to beer vendors.
Vitale’s Beer Shoppe’s conception comes six months after Tired Hands Brewing Co. founder Jean Broillet began construction on an Ardmore Avenue office to open a brew café.
“That’s a whole different concept from what I’m doing,” Vitale said.
In addition to perusing fridges for a beer bottle to sample or different beers to throw in a six-pack, customers will also have the opportunity to dine on French and Italian gourmet cheeses and salami, and Chicago-style beef hotdogs.
Vitale said it will also allow beer-goers to spend $15-$16 for six different kinds of beers, as opposed to shelling nearly $60 for a case or two of the same taste.
He added that depending on building and health inspection requirements and obtaining the liquor license, the store could open as early as March or as late as May.
“It’s going to have a bright, classy, pleasant supermarket feel,” he said. “It’s a unique concept in a very high-level kind of way.”