Walgreens Adds Beer, Wine to Shelves for First Time in 15 Years

Drug-store chain Walgreen Co. is reversing a roughly 15-year-old alcohol sales ban by returning beer and wine to its shelves, Dow Jones Newswires reported Wednesday.

The Deerfield, Ill., retailer is hoping offering alcohol will boost its sales and market share, making it a one-stop shop without affecting its community-friendly image.

Up until the mid-1990s, most Walgreens stores had full liquor sections, making the chain one of the nation's largest liquor retailers with liquor and other beverages comprising about 10 percent of total sales. It quit when the stores' liquor sections became cumbersome to staff and time-consuming for store managers to maintain, said spokesman Robert Elfinger.

The nation's largest retail drugstore by store count has reintroduced a limited beer and wine selection in about 3,100 of its roughly 7,500 stores. The drugstore has plans to stock the alcohol in about 5,000 stores by the end of 2010. The company will apply for licensing in states where it doesn't yet sell alcohol, including Alabama and Georgia.

Rival drugstores CVS Caremark Corp. and Rite Aid Corp. sell beer and wine in several of their stores, as do some grocery store chains.

Elfinger said that in addition to stocking national wine and beer brands, Walgreens is "always reaching out" to local vendors to stock locally produced wine and beers.

Bill Dreher, retail analyst at Deutsche Bank, predicts an increase in customer receipts and a roughly 2 percent same-store sales lift when beer and wine is included in between 5,000 and 6,000 of Walgreen's stores.

Credit Suisse Group analyst Edward Kelly said the company's beer and wine effort appears to be doing "extremely well" and should have been done "a long time ago."

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