Senior citizen Dale Schneck of Schnecksville reached into the beer cooler at Weis Market along Route 873 in North Whitehall Township, took out a 12-pack and presented it to clerk Linda Henninger for purchase.
“I’ll need your driver’s license,” she said.
“Don’t think I’m old enough?” frowned the 82-year-old Schneck as he opened his wallet.
Henninger explained that everyone who wants to buy alcoholic beverages at Weis, regardless of age, must present a driver’s license or a valid photo ID.
As Schneck attempted to show her the license that was still in the wallet, she said, “I’ll need it out of the wallet, because I have to run it through the register.”
Schneck struggled to remove the license from its plastic prison, but the license would not come free. After nearly two minutes of tugging and pushing, a frustrated Schneck said, “Ah, the heck with it. I’ll just go to the beer distributor.”
“You’re going to have to do the same thing there,” Henninger told him.
In response to a question about the awkward encounter, Henninger admitted that the state does not require driver’s licenses to be run through the cash register for verification. “It’s a Weis policy, but it will be a state law very soon,” she said.
A sign prominently posted at the café register where alcoholic beverages must be purchased contradicted what Henninger said. “Due to state and company regulations and policies,” the sign says, “anyone purchasing alcohol must present a valid photo ID, regardless of age.”
State Liquor Control Board counsel Jim Mayer says the sign is inaccurate, at least as far as the state requirement goes. Mayer said there is a pending bill in the state legislature affecting Philadelphia only, but, he says he sees nothing on the horizon for such a statewide mandate.
“This is an internal Weis policy,” Mayer says, adding that Wegmans has a similar 100 percent carding policy.
As it turned out, Schneck went to the Liberty Bell Beer Distributor just off Route 309 in North Whitehall Township and made the purchase without incident.
Weis’ Schnecksville store manager John Hegger confirmed his store’s corporate-wide policy, although he said Schneck could have probably been helped with the purchase if the clerk had called a manager. “We do make occasional exceptions and probably would have done so in this case,” Hegger said.
“I didn’t want to cause the clerk any problems if that’s the policy, and I didn’t want to hold up the line,” said Schneck in explaining why he didn’t pursue the issue.
Hegger also checked on the wording of the Weis sign and agreed that it is inaccurate. “We’ll change it immediately to indicate that this is company policy, not a state requirement,” Hegger said.
Dennis Curtin, Weis’ director of public relations at its Sunbury headquarters, said the carding policy is to make sure there are no slip-ups on the part of cashiers and to protect the company from liability issues. He said the information captured from the driver’s license is kept by Weis for seven years in case any liability issues occur. He added, however, that none of the captured information is used for marketing or other purposes.
At Wegmans' Tilghman Street store, café manager Chrissie Remaly said the 100 percent carding policy is to “take the guess work out of it for the cashiers.” Sometimes there is a 19-year-old with a full beard who might look over 21, she explained.
She admits that customers who have not seen age 21 for many, many moons consider it an inconvenience, and even an annoyance. Remaly said for customers who do not want their driver’s licenses run through the special electronic reader that Wegmans uses to verify age, a cashier will type in the information.
"How do I know what personal stuff that reader is capturing?” asked Stacy Gooding of Coopersburg, an occasional Wegmans customer. Remaly said the reader verifies age only and does not capture other information on the license or ID.
“No, the state doesn’t require us to do this. It is a corporate policy,” Remaly said.
A spokeswoman in consumer affairs at Wegmans' corporate office in Rochester, N.Y., confirmed the policy. She said if an obviously older-looking person doesn’t have photo ID and insists on buying alcoholic products, the local store’s management can override the policy at its discretion.