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.]