Sunday Will Be Wet

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Pennsylvania, where I grew up and got my first job as a reporter, is experimenting with Sunday liquor sales. Starting this weekend, 61 of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board's 638 stores–the state's only retailers of wine and distilled spirits by the bottle–will be open for business from noon until 5 p.m. on Sundays.

When I lived in Pennsylvania, the state stores were known for banker's hours and Soviet-style service. Now they're open 12 hours a day, boast of their wide selection and monthly sales, and offer customers amenities such as tubs for quick-chilling wine. Selling on Sunday seems like the next logical step. If business is good during a two-year trial period, the LCB plans to extend the policy to all of its stores. The Lancaster Intelligencer Journal reports that the move has triggered protests from neoprohibitionists, who plan to picket the stores.

"State stores are open six days a week, 12 hours a day. There's no reason people can't get alcohol in Pennsylvania during the week," said Brian Smith, executive director of Pennsylvanians Concerned About Alcohol Problems, a key organizer of Sunday's planned demonstration.

Smith cited figures from the alcohol industry itself that show the amount of alcohol sold in states where Sunday sales are allowed is about 20 percent more than in states where Sunday sales are prohibited.

Smith thus insists there's no real demand for liquor sales on Sunday, even while worrying that customers will take advantage of the expanded hours. The contradiction reflects the tension between the LCB's desire to increase sales and its mission to keep drinking below the level it would reach in a free market. The more closely the state stores approximate private retailers, the more they undermine the rationale for their existence.

[Thanks to D. Straub for pointing out the article.]

NEXT: P-A:2, This Time It's Personal

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  1. This Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article on the Sunday hours, makes clear that a lot of the protestors (at least in Pittsburgh) are also employees/union members of the state stores.

  2. The kernel of the story is the long lived acquiesence of the good citizens of PA to the state’s monopoly control of John Barleycorn. Guess they just can’t be trusted with “freedom”. The legacy of the bootleggers and Baptists lives on.

  3. Part of the situation is that a large majority of Pennsylvanians live within a short driving distance of a neighbouring state or two, all of which have more liberal alcohol distribution laws than the Appalachian Utah. Government’s first prerogative is raking in the cash; why go on losing out to nimbler competition?

  4. People who are at risk of becoming problem drinkers (the presumable focus of the PCAAP) probably drink a lot already. They either have a sizeable stash… er… supply at home, or stock up on Saturday night (if Sundays are dry). Liquor stores being open one more day won’t change much.

    Instead, I bet the increase in sales results from an increase in casual users… er… drinkers, people making impulse buys while out and about. Not a concern. If current health expert trends are correct, it could be good for public health.

    The real benefit is for people looking for work.

  5. The most inane evils are the hardest to eradicate. Here in Michigan, we have only two ‘blue’ laws still in existence that I know of.
    One is that you can’t buy alcohol before noon on Sunday. Kind of silly since you can still buy it on Sundays, just later in the day. The other is that you cannot buy alcohol after 6PM on Christmas eve and not at all on Christmas day. I found this out one year when we had friends over for Christmas and ran out of beer. To me this law clearly violates separation of church and state (last time I checked Christmas is a Christian holiday, so a prohibition on drinking during it when no prohibition exists for any other day of the year seems to be more than a coincidence). I doubt most Michiganians even know about this (I didn’t until I ran into a specific situation), so there’s no public outcry (or any outcry that I’ve heard) to change it.

    I think it’s interesting that the representative from the neoprohibitionist group in PA notes that states with Sunday alcohol sales have a total 20% greater alcohol sales than states with Sunday prohibition, but somehow concludes that there’s no demand for Sunday sales. Clearly he needs to have his logic bone looked at by a professional. But to me it’s basically a non-issue. I’m sure the alcohol sales in states with dry counties is lower than in states with no dry counties. Duh.

    Of course, there is also the falacy of correlation = causation. It is interesting to me that states that allow 1/7 more days to purchase alcohol have 1/5 more consumption. One could expect asymmetric results however since more people are off of work on weekends so the opportunities to shop and drink are both greater than on weekdays. Could be however that states with a larger drinking population are less likely to have blue laws since they are less politically popular.

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