Keystone State Goes Lite On Its Liquor Stores


Enthusiasm for abolishing Pennsylvania's Liquor Control Board (PLCB) and privatizing the state-run wine and spirits stores it operates is picking up steam, and privatizing legislation is supported by the Republican governor and majority in both houses. Privatization would generate billions in revenue for the waste-racked state budget, but that would be a mere bonus for consumers sick of state stores' abysmal selection. 

Parents, don't let your kids drink beer (that's brewed in Newark and pays a Pujols' salary)

Privatization buzz has led, most recently, to offering wine in grocery stores in kiosks that promptly broke down and promises from the PLCB that it plans on "imitating" private retailers. Kicking funds back to communities to educate children in the dangers of their product is also a favored strategy. "Leave us alone" is the rallying cry of the booze board: Go ahead and take out some more loans; we'll pay them off in 20 years. Despite the apparent wisdom of spinning off the liquor business, the unionized state store clerks have the staying power of a Banker's Club hangover. Their most recent line of defense would really take the Maker's, if they had some in stock. From the Pennsylvania Independent:

Opponents of the privatization effort say the state-controlled stores do a better job of preventing sales to minors and running checks on the stores would be an unnecessary cost.

Wendell Young, president of United Food and Commercial Workers 1776, which represents the state liquor store employees, said state police run their operations to target establishments which sell to minors.  He argued complaints against state liquor stores are so rare as to make enforcement unnecessary.

"It's a question of limited resources and directing their efforts where the smoke is," said Mr. Young.  "The taxpayers of Pennsylvania should have to raise the budget to pay for stings where there is not an issue."

Mr. Young said state liquor store employees risk losing their jobs and benefits if they sell to minors, which is enough of an incentive to prevent it from happening.

As someone with an unquestioned case of babyface who has bought a few beers at both Pennsylvania bars and state stores, undercover compliance stings have mostly succeeded in cultivating a culture of carding at local saloons. Contrary to the UFCW's Mr. Young, though, state store clerks generally don't check ID. The greatest deterrent to underage purchasers tends to be personal familiarity with a clerk, as in, "Brad's mom is working, no Jack tonight." The numbers showing Pennsylvania's mediocre ranking in underage drinking rates bears this out.

More from Reason on boozing here.

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  1. People who live in such east coast states think the situation is normal, and generally approve of it. They probably have visions of the west coast states having lines of kids lined up out the door of the eebil capitalist liquor stores.

    When I was in Massaschussets I asked a clerk in a grocery store where the liquors were. He gave me a look like I just asked were the infant heroin flavored formula was kept.

    1. Here in maine the taxes may be absurd but at least we can still buy a bottle of gin at the local supermarch

    2. That’s what I don’t get. It’s not like they can’t see what other states are like that don’t have state owned liquor stores. Laboratories of democracy and all that.

    3. Yeah, except West Coast states control the liquor too, and reject every attempt at privatizing with the exact same arguments.

      1. Nevada doesn’t. You can buy damn near whatever you want to in the local supermarket. I guess it doesn’t count as a “west coast” state, though.

        Oregon has state liquor stores, but beer and wine can be bought just about anywhere. I hear it used to be just like PA where you had to buy beer and wine from the state stores too, but I guess the breweries and wineries that are popping up like weeds got the law changed a while back.

        I guess Oregon needs to start a cottage distillery industry.

        1. Every supermarket I’ve been to in CA sold the hard stuff. This has included Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and a place called “Foods Co.”

        2. PA’s beer situation is weird, but it’s not state-owned. You can buy beer to go in quantities up to 12-packs from any bar; you can buy beer in cases or kegs from a beer distributor. The only place you can buy a 6-pack and a 24-pack is a brewery.

  2. Ah, which cute little reason commenter is the baby alcoholic-so man to choose from…

    Definitely not Epi, I don’t see any pills

    1. pick me… pick me…!

      There dear girl, saved you from having to notch up your efforts – ‘cuz that was a trolling fail!

    2. If you haven’t noticed already, I’m rather retarded.

  3. As a young lad, one of the stops on my paper route was a state store. One year for Christmas, the clerk gave me liquor filled chocolates. It was awesome on two levels. (Three levels, if you count that he wasn’t a pervert.)

    1. young lad…the clerk gave me liquor…pevert
      I thought you were going to clarify the meaning of your handle

      1. I just accidentally your whole blog.

        1. I just accidentally your whole blog.
          -fetal alcohol syndrome?

  4. Because keeping 18 year olds from drinking booze is so important, that the government must have direct control over the entire retail liquor market.

    It’s for the children, after all!

  5. I suspect the reason that there are so few complaints about underage sales by state liquor stores is that most such complaints come from other liquor stores looking to jack the competition, and there are no such other liquor stores in PA.

  6. Hey kid you’re supposed to fill the bottles not drink out of them!

  7. Yeah, our government stores will attempt to imitate the very same marketplace that we have regulated out of existence. Makes perfect sense.

  8. Are there liquor stores in Somalia?

    1. Nyet, but jenkem kiosks abound.

  9. Are there liquor stores in Somalia?

    Yes, but.

    Absent the nudge of enlightened regulation, Somalian “liquor” stores sell parasite-riddled warthog piss as beer, AIDS-infected blood as wine (back-alley centrifuges dispense “red” and “white”), different colors of hydrofluoric acid as spirits, and Four Loko as warthog-piss liqueur.

    You know, for business.

    1. Yes, then?

    2. See? Even without government, they manage to replicate the exact same services as state-owned liquor stores!

    3. Also, since they have no roads there they don’t have to worry about the scourge of drunk driving that state-run liquor stores help control.

  10. As a native Californian and current PA resident, it’s not the strict state controls that bother me the most, it’s the utter imbecility of the laws themselves. First, wine and liqour are sold in the same store but you have to go to an entirely different store for beer. I can understand separating liquor from beer and wine, but separating beer from the other two makes no sense whatsoever. Second, you can’t buy bottled beer in 12 packs, only cans. Bottles are only sold in 6 and 24 packs. Exactly whose children are being saved with these assuming laws?

    1. You can definitely buy bottled beer in 12-packs, though not every bar stocks them.

  11. Sorry, my last post should have read “asinine” laws. Stupid iPhone spelling corrector!

    1. I thought you meant to say ‘amusing’.

    2. making the change:

      “it’s not the asinine state controls that bother me the most, it’s the utter imbecility of the laws themselves.”

      Huh? Imbecilic Law -> Asinine Controls….so, how are you opposed to one but not-so-opposed to the other?

    3. Stupid IpHone spelling corrector!

      Fixed that for you.

  12. Once states privatize, though, it will be on to the next issue.

    And thus it’s only a matter of time before the first state-run brothels.

    1. But they have these already in many states. They are euphemistically called “state houses” and as one might expect from the example of state liquor stores, the selection is poor. Most of the whores are fat old men.

      1. My sight, it detected your actions there.

  13. Yeah, except West Coast states control the liquor too, and reject every attempt at privatizing with the exact same arguments.

    As someone who went to college in PA and lives in CA, there’s no comparison: PA’s liquor laws are far more objectionable and fucking retarded. It’s really not even close. I have to pay obnoxious taxes on booze here, but at least the selection is excellent and I can buy at any day/hour I choose.

    1. I have to pay obnoxious taxes on booze here

      As opposed to paying whatever obnoxious price the state store sets. Got it.

      (like you said though, least you get the selection with the overly-taxed option. Paying for freedom, how the fuck does it work?)

      1. As opposed to paying whatever obnoxious price the state store sets. Got it.

        I’m pretty sure he’s saying that aspect is no different. And if we consider freedom a spectrum, paying an extra 1-2% sales tax on alcohol while having it available at the most convenient location possible is far preferable to East Coast control-freakery. I never realized how obnoxious my own state’s ABC (Alcohol & Beverage Control) stores were until I experienced the alternative. Before Cali, all liquor was purchased in a sterilized store with poor selection and a surly employee who gave you the evil eye while stuffing your purchases into flimsy paper bags.

        Also, those stores compete with each other, so the prices are lower, enough that it eclipses the tax difference anyway.

  14. Sorry I got to the thread late. I was in line at Walgreens buying a bottle of Jameson and a case of Fat Tire. Of course, the line was shorter at the Cannabis Club on the other side of town, so that was nice.

    California, with all of it’s faults, certainly is better than a lot of states when it comes to pain relief and availability of booze.

  15. This is the most ridiculous article on privatization I’ve ever read, and I’ve read quite a few well-written ones based on facts. Yes, I’m a PLCB employee. Take that for what it is. But to make inane and irresponsible claims like “PLCB clerks generally don’t check ID” amuses me.

    1. Luckily I’m close enough to the border to be able to buy all my stuff in Delaware. Their stores have prominent signs about carding everyone under 30 (and I’ve been in line behind some obviously over-30 women who were carded and thrilled by it.) No matter what state one is in, one can always find an older sibling or frat brother to go procure the alcohol. And I’m certain any lax liquor store owner would be put out of business by a lawsuit if he sold alkie to a kid who then killed some folks in an accident, and it wouldn’t matter one wit if the kid used phoney i.d. I doubt a PLCB employee’s union would allow him to be fired if his excuse was “Well, it looked genuine to me.”

    2. Well, as a PA resident, and having been in a number of smelly Wines & Spirits store (why do they all have to smell bad?), I’ve NEVER been carded by a PLCB employee, nor have I witnessed them carding someone else. And this is in State College, ever a contender for most underage drinking in the commonwealth. (Home of Penn State University, if anyone wants to know why.)

      The PLCB is nothing but a vehicle representing the unionized clerks and unionized managers (who have a separate union?!) of the Wines & Spirits stores and the myriad protected business interests behind the “distributors”.

      Gah. What I miss most from my native state is being able to swing by the grocery store at 11pm, after a long day, to pick up a bottle of wine for the occasion.

      The PLCB sucks.

  16. The article writer apparently made much of this up, as he states he has bought beer at Pa. state stores. Were he writing a truthful story, he would know beer is not sold at state stores, so this calls into question other statements of “fact”.

  17. I hope PLCB dies a quick death. I’m 24 year old PA resident and I was recently carded for a rated R movie. I’m carded maybe 1 in every 4 visits to the liquor store but I’m carded 99% of the time at any bar or restaurant.

  18. @ Justin

    I hope you enjoy your $25/hour job that requires no college education and provides full health insurance and retirement benefits. Can’t wait till Corbett axes you and your cronies.

    I’ve met exactly one PLCB employee who knew more about wine than I do. I’ve met employees who don’t know the difference between bourbon and whiskey, who thought Jack Daniels is on the same level as Woodford Reserve. The one PLCB employee who knows more than I do? The manager of the “Premium Collection” store near Whole Foods in Shadyside.

    1. Tanya, your reply is an asinine assumption. Why you’re so bitter is anyone’s guess, but it clearly goes way, way deeper than anything as trivial as the circumstances of wine/spirits.

  19. Wine in grocery stores is not that new. You guys only recently heard about it.

    Geez, do some research. What is this, the NYT?

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