Lower Merion could soon be home to a beer smorgasbord

Posted: February 06, 2012

Peter Vitale envisions a place in Lower Merion where local beer connoisseurs and novices alike can choose among craft, import, and other specialty brews 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 palate today seems to be leaning toward variety, so why not have a place that does that for beers?"

Vitale, 59, who has owned Italian restaurants and pizza shops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, is putting stock in this variety trend for beers with a new store he plans to open in Ardmore. The Beer Shoppe would occupy the 2,700-square-foot vacant space at 44 Greenfield Ave. in the Ardmore Plaza, previously a CVS store.

The Beer Shoppe could open as early as March or as late as May, depending on various required approvals, Vitale said.

The Lower Merion Board of Commissioners approved the transfer of a liquor license to Vitale from a Norristown restaurant at its Jan. 18 meeting. The license transfer is now awaiting approval from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

Lower Merion Commissioner Steven Lindner, whose Ward 4 is near the proposed shop, said constituents had expressed concerns.

Lindner wondered what could happen when a person left the store, since, under Vitale's concept for the shop, customers would be able to buy and drink a bottle of beer on the premises. Lindner and some Ward 4 residents also said they feared a customer could buy beer and bring it to nearby Vernon Young Park.

In an e-mail, Lindner wrote that he and others viewed the liquor-license transfer "as a threat to the quality of life in the area."

At a Jan. 9 meeting of the Ardmore Progressive Civic Association, some residents pointed out that a number of churches, playgrounds, and pools were near the proposed beer store.

Vitale said that "anything is possible if someone wants to break the law" and that his business and prices would more than likely discourage such behavior.

Vitale said he thought the residents' questions and concerns were legitimate but emphasized that he was not proposing a bar. Customers would have to adhere to limits, he said, because he would not overserve.

"I think this is going to be a real positive complement to the area," he said. "It's going to be a retail establishment, so closing time would not be 2 a.m.

"I'm almost 60 years old. I want to make my life easier, not harder," he added with a laugh.

Under amendments to the liquor-license transfer added by the board, the Beer Shoppe could not be open before 10 a.m. or after 10 p.m., and it would not sell alcoholic caffeinated beverages such as the controversial Four Loko.

Vitale said he got the idea for the shop because there was no place like it in Lower Merion, and because the 25-to-40 age bracket and income demographics were consistent with those most interested in specialty beers.

He said the store would have "a bright, classy, pleasant supermarket feel," with refrigerators lining the walls containing about 100 import, craft, and specialty beers. Vitale said he could not provide a list of brews because he was still talking to beer vendors.

Besides perusing fridges for a beer bottle to sample or different beers to throw in a six-pack, customers would also be able to dine on French and Italian gourmet cheeses and salami and Chicago-style beef hot dogs.

"It's a unique concept," Vitale said, "in a very high-level kind of way."

Contact staff writer Josh Fernandez at jfernandez@philly.com.

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