After more than 70 years in business, Tarentum-based Anheuser-Busch wholesaler LaRusse Distributing Company has closed its doors. Owner Phil LaRusse Jr. felt that his business had grown as much as it was going to, and that the culture of the beer business had become too corporate for his taste.
"It was time to get out," he says.
The third-generation family business played a key part in the liquor-distribution network. Since the repeal of Prohibition, direct sales of alcohol to the consumer have been forbidden (for the most part — there are exceptions for businesses like brewpubs and wineries). Under the law, producers must sell their goods to wholesalers like LaRusse; they, in turn, sell to retailers like a bar or a beer distributor, who sells to the consumer.
LaRusse's territory — which includes all of Butler, Lawrence and Mercer counties, as well as parts of Allegheny and Westmoreland counties — has been sold to Frank B. Fuhrer Wholesale. That will expand the reach of what is already one of the 20 largest beer wholesalers in the United States. (Erie Distributing will take over LaRusse's Mercer County operations.)
LaRusse's clients, too, said they felt like part of the family. "I had a wonderful relationship with them for close to 40 years," says Stacey Mazzotta, owner of Stella's Restaurant in New Kensington.
Beyond selling beer, community involvement was paramount to the LaRusse family. The company sponsored local sports teams, put on fireworks shows, and threw an annual Thanksgiving dinner in its 31,000-square-foot warehouse. "Anything we could do to give back, we did," LaRusse says.
"It was a lot of fun," LaRusse adds. "It was a great business and good to my family." But although he says he'll miss the day-to-day interaction with employees and customers, he believes he got out at the right time — as cultural shifts have caught up with the business.
For example, he says, in the old days, "Conventions were a big party, but now it's the driest meeting you can imagine. Just talking heads."