Alcohol

First Wine, Now Beer in (Some) Pennsylvania Supermarkets; Coming Soon: Cats and Dogs Living Together

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While researching a column about liquor store privatization, I came across a Philadelphia Inquirer story from a month ago with the intriguing headline "Pennsylvania Supreme Court Upholds Beer Sales at Wegmans Stores." Why did the Pennsylvania Supreme Court take up this issue, which in most states would not be an issue at all? Because under Pennsylvania law there are just two ways to buy beer for off-premise consumption: from an officially anointed distributor (which may sell only by the case, so you had better really like the beer you pick) or from a specially licensed restaurant (which may sell no more than two six-packs at a time, usually at an outrageous markup). Because Wegmans stores include sit-down cafés, the company claimed to fall in the latter category, and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) granted it beer licenses for five locations (including one in my hometown, Wilkes-Barre).  Not surprisingly, the trade group representing beer distributors objected. The state Supreme Court sided with the supermarket chain and the PLCB, concluding that nothing in state law prevents beer-serving restaurants from operating within grocery stores, provided that the eating area meets minimum size requirements and is "clearly indicated by a permanent partition at least 4 feet in height." The court noted that its ruling "may foreshadow the expansion of the practice of large businesses opening restaurants within their facilities," which offers consumers a little more choice in one of the country's most absurdly regulated alcohol markets.

The court's opinion is here (PDF). A couple of years ago I noted the controversy over a proposal to deregulate beer sales in Pennsylvania so that you could buy, say, three six-packs of three different beers. Last year I noted the PLCB's foray into selling wine (heretofore available only in state stores) in supermarkets via semi-automated kiosks. It eventually installed 31 of them, all of which were taken offline for repairs last month, just in time for the holidays.

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81 responses to “First Wine, Now Beer in (Some) Pennsylvania Supermarkets; Coming Soon: Cats and Dogs Living Together

  1. First Wine, Now Beer in (Some) Pennsylvania Supermarkets; Coming Soon: Cats and Dogs Living Together[…]

    Don’t forget: Mass hysteria!

  2. You know who else doesn’t have ABC stores? Do ya?

    1. Could it be …….. SATAN?!

      1. I was gonna guess the Jews. Close enough…

        1. Why are you always on about the Jews, Hitler?

          1. “He’s right, you know!”

        2. I fucking love juice

  3. Can’t you get a case of six?

    1. If you don’t mind paying for the other 18, sure.

  4. I lived in Old City in Philly and there was this small market that was able to serve beer because it had a sit-down-and-eat section. The markup wasn’t too hateful. Not on Yuengling, at least.

    1. You mean you didn’t drive over the bridge and buy your beer at “Canal’s” on Rt 38 in Pennsauken?

  5. From July 1:

    the better Pennsylvania’s liquor and wine monopoly gets at serving its customers, the more it undermines its raison d’etre, which is to discourage drinking by making it harder and more expensive. If the state’s system operates just like a customer-friendly business (and it still has a ways to go on that score), what’s the point (aside from raising revenue and employing state workers, which would justify a government monopoly in any industry)?

    I can just see the “legislative finding” section of the legislation:

    After a period of necessary experimentation with state stores, we are now able to conclude with confidence what we could not have without this experience: that intoxicating liquors are not dangerous, as had been feared at the time of repeal of total prohibition, and that therefore they may safely be sold under the aegis of private enterprise to persons other than and in addition to those who have been advised by a medical professional to drink them.

  6. THIS IS UNTHINKABLE

  7. I’m in Philly this week. I walked from my hotel to a “pizza by the slice” shop and picked up 3 six packs. They sold it to me and didn’t bat an eye. I guess I don’t look like a nark because I had no idea I was doing anything wrong.

  8. Whole Foods pulled off a similar trick at its Plymouth Meeting Mall location. The mark-ups are still terrible, but less so, and the selection is almost like a capitalist country.

  9. “”
    The grocery store kiosks, manufactured by Simple Brands of Conshohocken, a Philadelphia suburb, started acting up three weeks ago, when resistors inside the machines began malfunctioning, keeping wine bottles from being unlocked for buyers.

    The company tried to fix them through software changes but when that did not work, it and the LCB shut down every machine at 9 p.m. Tuesday. The kiosks are expected to return to service in early January.

    Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg…..z1A6hdmLjd

    That’s just funny.

    1. How the fuck does a resistor “malfunction?” It’s either there or it’s fried. Sounds odd to me.

      1. RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!

  10. I used to drive back and forth across The Keystone Kop State fairly regularly.

    Even as a college dumbass, seeing billboards which proclaimed “MILK! AT STATE MINIMUM PRICE!” I wondered to myself why in the fuck it was the state’s job to decide how much anybody should pay for a gallon of milk.

    It was also at this time (as I drove through miles, and miles, and miles, and miles of “Work Zones” which betrayed not the slightest evidence of work being done or having been done, or even any sign that anyone was contemplating doing any work at any time in the foreseeable future) that I determined the single best deterrent to malfeasance and/or garden variety incompetence on the part of public officials must inevitably be public execution. I have only come to be more convinced, as time has passed.

    1. (as I drove through miles, and miles, and miles, and miles of “Work Zones” which betrayed not the slightest evidence of work being done or having been done, or even any sign that anyone was contemplating doing any work at any time in the foreseeable future)

      You jolly well better have had your headlights on all that time.

    2. Why, you ask, is it the state’s job to decide how much anybody should pay for a gallon of milk? Or to sell liquor? Because the state legislators know better than anyone else in Pennsylvania! They are so angelic and wise, it’s a miracle that they don’t ascend to heaven en masse every day.

      1. Consumers should not balance their check books on the backs of dairy farmers.

        1. What is it with you and milk, Dan?

          You can tell because I ignored him and headed into the bathroom. Once inside, I washed my hand off to remove the blood and took off my stained oxford shirt. I was wearing a tank top underneath. Before I could dry my hands with a paper towel (my thumb was still a bloody mess), there was a knock on the door. It was Otis.

          “It’s okay. He poured the milk. It’s over.”

          I smiled. “It’s over for today, Otis. But we cannot be sure that the transmissions have ceased. There could be more.”

          Otis was silent. I opened the door to find him back behind the counter.

        2. I agree. They tend to move or stand up straight just when you think you found that damn penny discrepancy.

  11. And here I thought the liquor store being closed on Sunday was damn near an intolerable intrusion.How do people stand it?

    1. Try no alcohol sales–at all, beer, wine, liquor–on Sundays and all holidays, including the 4th of July. You learn to plan ahead, really. And to always overbuy just in case.

      But that’s all behind me now. Now I have state run liquor stores, but beer and wine are fine.

      1. NJ dumped most of their Blue Laws. There are still a few dry towns, however. Gloucester City, NJ at one time had the most bars/sq mile in the country, but they were all closed on Sunday, but the liquor stores were open.

    2. Say what you will about California, we can buy both liquor and weed on sundays.

    1. That’s good to see. I’m friends with most of the craft brewers here in Chicago and one of the awesome things about the industry is that just about all of them are good friends. Like the brewer in the article says, there’s enough demand to go around and they realize that the craft market grows by turning lite beer drinkers into craft beer drinkers, not by getting craft beer drinkers to switch from brand A to brand B.

    2. I should also add for you Washingtonians who live near Rockville, you should check out the Gordon Biersch there. I know it’s a chain, but the head brewer (who used to brew ’round these parts) is an awesome guy and a great German-style brewer. [Sorry for the shameless plug but that’s all I know about D.C.-area beer.]

      1. There’s a Gordon Biersch right next to the AMC theater at Pacific Place Mall. Pretty good, but no IPAs.

      2. Not a fan of Gordon Biersch, except for their seasonals. BTW, the Costco brand “craft brew” is re-branded Gordon Biersch.

  12. In my town of Butler, PA there is a little beer store called Gorillo’s that operates under a bar/restaurant license and is thus able to sell by the six pack. I’m not sure how they managed to pull that off since the seating area consists of two booths in a room that is roughly as large as my garage, but God bless them!

  13. Pennsylvania is a terrible place. Terrible.

    1. I don’t understand how human life exists east of the Mississippi.

    2. And you thought Jersey was bad. At least we have privately owned liquor stores, where you can get a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue for $150.

      1. Ecch. The nanny state should be there to stop people from dropping 150 bucks on a blend.

        1. Mmm hmmmm. I knew there’d be at least one blend hater that doesn’t know what he is talking about.

          http://www.epinions.com/review…..0302702212

          1. Granted, I’m not a huge blend fan, but Blue is definitely over-rated and over priced. It’s just an extreme smokiness. To me, Green is vastly superior, at less than 1/2 the price.

            1. I guess it depends on your taste. I think Blue is aged longer than Green. Time is money. Over priced is the King George V edition at about $500.00

              1. Blue is aged longer (18-20 depending on the specific blend) but it is a completely different blend than green. Green is a 15 yr blend that is “cask strength” with more oak flavor than smoke.

    3. That may be true, but it looks like we have our own royal wedding coming up in June, possibly rivaling that of Prince William.

      At some point we all have to outgrow our youthful college bar bathroom shenanigans, I guess.

      1. It’ll take that poor dumb girl weeks to wash off the stink of the wedding night. I hope he’s paying her enough to make the sham marriage worth it.

  14. Not surprisingly, the trade group representing beer distributors objected.

    BINGO

    I don’t want to sound unsympathetic to workers, but these fucking unions have to go.

    1. “Trade group” doesn’t necessarily mean “union.”

      1. In this case, it does. I saw one on the local Philly news spewing that union propaganda.

        1. I don’t think the union you saw on the news is the same group Sullum is talking about. Per the linked article: “The Malt Beverage Distributors Association, which represents 450 beer distributors across the state, had challenged Wegmans’ license on a number of grounds.” The Malt Beverage Distributors Association is definitely not a union.

          1. That may be. But in Philly, the distributors are all union shops, and have the power of the unions behind them. If PA were to ever deregulate the liquor laws, which some suggest, it would, at least partly, be a union battle.

            1. It’s an “unholy”, symbiotic relationship. Which is why, I feel, many on the left want regulations that limit competition because its too difficult to unionize small businesses.

          2. The distributors themselves may or may not be unionized. But the State Stores are all union — public employee union, at that.

            Because the PA State Stores are such dangerous workplaces as to require unions.

  15. Supermarkets beings allowed to sell beer. What’s next? Glenn Beck and Keith Olberman moving to California and getting married?

  16. But on the plus side, the gun laws (or lack thereof) are positively awesome for a Northeastern state.

    1. Not as awesome as Vermont.

      1. …or New Hampshire.

        Too many ex-hippies and Social Democrats in Vermont.

        http://www.freenewhampshireblo…..eelection/

      2. That is one thing my home state does correctly.

  17. When you live in a state that doesn’t have a stupid law, and then go to a state that does, you’re gobsmacked. While California has it’s share of stupid laws, there are two areas in which it does not: liquor in grocery stores and pumping your own gasoline.

    When I went to Oregon a few years ago I tried to fill up my own gas. People were offended. Genuinely offended. Genuinely and deeply offended. Only my excuse as a foreigner tourist kept me from being lynched. And that was in Klammath Falls, not the nanny-state nexus that is Portland.

    On the radio driving through there was a debate about a gasoline self-service referendum. People were genuinely and deeply concerned that if people pumped their own gas there would be fireballs and explosions and deaths. Seriously.

    I was gobsmacked.

    Ditto for these alcohol restrictions. Why the hell can’t a grocery store sell wine? Why the hell are there still states with government liquor stores? Why the hell are there still *dry* counties?!?!?!11!

    Why do people in those states think that’s normal? Sigh.

    1. really you can’t pump your own gas in Oregon? you’re fucking kidding me?

      1. Same in Jersey.

        1. Yeah, but Jersey has very low gas taxes. So, the price of gas is still less than PA or NY. Just stay off the Parkway and Turnpike.

      2. No joke. When the law was passed in Oregon it was passed with the thin veil of environmentalism, but it was essentially a jobs bill. By forcing every station owner to hire someone to pump gas, they magically created thousands of jobs overnight. But they can’t come out and say that. So they claim that only a professional can pump your gas safely and within proper environmental tolerances. Oregon’s unemployment is almost always higher than the rest of the region. Now you know why.

        1. But they can’t come out and say that.

          They do in Jersey. Same with the toll-takers. They can’t put all of those people out of work. That’s like taking the food out of babies mouths’.

          1. Why can’t they just give them a stipend for life? I’m serious. I mean, can’t we just cash out some of the rent-seeking in this world, and get off a lot cheaper than make-work?

          2. Apparently the new Indiana Toll Road owner fired all the toll collectors, replacing them with cash-accepting machines (and the ezPass lanes). Unfortunately, the machines are slow as hell to begin with, and all it takes is one little old lady inserting bills upside down over and over again to bring an entire lane to a standstill. Oh, and they raised the tolls too.

            Hooray for privatization!

    2. Utah Sucks that way.

    3. That’s why Pennsylvania is so great. Lots of fireballs and explosions when we pump our own gas. It’s like the 4th of July every day!

  18. So I understand here, the court maintained a freedom, or expanded it?

    1. Expanded a freedom by granting special privilege to a few more, select stores.

      That would fall under expanding an illusion.

      1. I think I got ya…thanks.

  19. Because Wegmans stores include sit-down caf?s, the company claimed to fall in the latter category, and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) granted it beer licenses for five locations (including one in my hometown, Wilkes-Barre).

    Wegmans is the awesomest grocery chain on the planet.

    1. I concur. They are killing the competition in my area on price, selection, and atmosphere. Here in VA they sell a pretty awesome variety of craft brews for a supermarket chain, and offer a Pick Your Own 6-Pack for $10.

      One negative, they don’t sell any tobacco products. Apparently they stopped carrying them to help their employees quit.

      1. Apparently they stopped carrying them to help their employees quit.

        Why would someone quit their job over not being able to sell cigarettes?

    2. I do miss it dearly from my days in Buffalo. I can only hope Giant Eagle will get wise after this ruling and start adding these little speakeasies to their stores too.

  20. Until recently I had no idea so many states had worse liquor laws than Oklahoma.

  21. Jacob,

    I hope in your research on privatizing state liquor stores you talk to Del. Bob Marshall in Virginia. He’s opposed to Gov. McDonnell’s plan for all the right reasons, and would simply prefer other establishments with ABC licenses be allowed to sell liquor along with beer and wine.

    He’s a very accessible guy. His listed phone number is his own cell phone.

  22. They also sell beer at Weis Markets and about a year before Wegmans and Weis got permission to sell beer there were a few Sheetz gas stations in western PA that started to sell beer.

  23. that’s good, soon everybody’s new hang out place will be at the supermarket, drinking beer….
    http://www.pathtoasia.com/jobs/

  24. In my home state of NC, Gov. Bev Perdue said she didn’t support putting alcohol on the shelves of supermarkets because she didn’t want to be the one to take her grandchildren down the aisle that sells alcohol. Seriously?

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