Will Pennsylvania Drag Itself into the 19th Century by Privatizing State Liquor Stores?


As a former resident of Philadelphia, the very city that midwifed the American Experiment and served as the setting for the charming musical 1776, I can attest firsthand to Pennsylvania's idiotic and insulting liquor laws. The state monopolizes sales of hard liquor and wine and limits the hows and wheres of beer buying too, all in the name of saving citizens from themselves while piling up tax revenues for those same residents.

Arguably the apex (nadir?) of this nanny-statism was the attempt by the commonwealth to introduce vending machines in grocery stores through which Pennsylvanians would finally be allowed the simple joy of picking up a bottle of red or white while going shopping for the rest of their dinners. Didn't work out, though, because the idea of a wine-vending machine in a supermarket is really kind of stupid (and scare tactics by unions threatened by any changes in status quo didn't help).

Then again, maybe the most obviously screwed-up story here is the one in which the state seized $160,000 in wine from a couple and threatened to destroy it.

Len Gilroy of Reason Foundation, the think tank operated by the same nonprofit that publishes, reports that the Republican-led state House of Representatives has pushed through a bill privatizing liquor sales. The state would actually get out of the liquor-selling business and instead amuse itself only by collecting taxes on sales and busting merchants who sold hooch to underage kids. The bill, says Gilroy, faces an uncertain future both in the state Senate and with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who has promised to veto any sort of privatization. Wolf, you see, prefers "modernization," which would allow the state to still run stuff but in a less obviously shitty way.

The Republicans behind selling off the state's liquor monopoly have produced estimates showing that the legislation would bring in over $1 billion in one-time sales for licenses and whatnot. On top of that, there would be more money coming in from selling the actual buildings and assets currently owned by the state, plus a regular stream of tax revenue. When they are not trying to scare folks with ridiculous ads like this one, opponents argue something like this: Why sell the cow when you can force customers to buy the milk only from you and then tax it on top of everything else and give out patronage jobs to boot?

Whatever. This really isn't a fight over revenue streams, is it? This should be rightly pushed as an argument over the proper size and scope of government and individual rights. Except with very rare exceptions(and I'm having trouble thinking of any good ones), the state should not be in the business of providing goods and services that the private sector can deliver far more effectively, efficiently, and equitably. On the flip side, the government has no right to keep individuals from selling legal goods and services in accordance with the law.

Such an appeal to first principles may not be a silver bullet (hat tip: Coors Light) against interest-group politics, but it's worth calling out politicians and their enablers for their anti-freedom ways. Especially in a place like Pennsylvania, where so much related to American history took place.

Related vid: "Virginia is for (Liquor) Lovers," or why the Old Dominion should privatize booze sales.

NEXT: Super Safe Playground Surfaces Still Not Safe Enough for Fans of More Regulations

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  1. PA’s liquor laws are the worst in the Union. You can buy beer at a beer distributor, but only by the case, or you can get takeout beer from a bar, but only by the six-pack. You can only buy wine or liquor from the state stores.

    Ohio’s are worse than that map would indicate. You can buy beer and wine in grocery stores, but no alcohol over 42 proof. So if for some reason you don’t want diluted vodka, you have to go to a state store. Retarded.

    1. or you can get takeout beer from a bar, but only by the six-pack

      You forgot the limit on takeout beer. No more than 192 ounces.

      1. 12 16-oz bottles max at a time, then. That’s better than I thought it was. I thought it was a maximum of two six-packs of 12-oz beers, 144 oz.

        1. I have a vague memory that it used to be lower. Last time I was in the Wegman’s off of 422, which has a beer store in the grocery store, they had signs up saying the limit was 192 ounces.

          1. You just go back into the bar and bring out more six packs until you have as many as you want to buy. You cannot carry more than two at a time though. For the children.

            1. Nope, it’s 192 ounces:


              See “E” license.

              I have bought more than the limit in the past, and had to carry out and come back into the store.

              1. So I could buy two six packs of twelve ounce beers and two 22 ounce bomber bottle.

    2. So if for some reason you don’t want diluted vodka

      Because I’m not a teenage girl?

      1. Teenage girls can probably dilute their own vodka. The only reason diluted vodka exists is because of weird partial liquor licenses that have a proof cutoff.

    3. PA’s liquor laws are the worst in the Union.

      I take it that you haven’t been to Utah.

      1. The difference…

        Mormons are teetotalers. Pennsylvanians are drunks.

      2. Which state is it that requires bars to serve every drink from a sealed container?

        1. Used to be that way in Utah. Might still be. They would give you a glass with mixer in it, then you bought a sealed minibottle from a different part of the restaurant.

          1. I think there is (or was) some place on the east coast that made bars serve every cocktail from a 50 ml bottle.

            1. South Carolina. Ended after I was transferred.

              It was actually 1.75-ounce bottles, but it made drinks made with liquor retarded expensive.

              Of course the bar I frequented in Charleston sold buckets of domestic long necks (6) for $7. $30 would get me nicely fucked up, stuffed with chicken wings, and leaving a really generous tip. It was a great place to be a young sailor.

  2. You can buy liquor in a grocery store in Massachusetts? I did not know that. If true, it’s sad that Massachusetts allows grocery stores to sell liquor but so many states don’t. If Massachusetts can allow it any state can.

    1. They only sell Victory Gin.

    2. It’s worse than you think.

      There are laws as to when the stuff can be for sale that are far more restrictive than the business hours that the stores need to stay open to keep their customers.

      Soooo, the stores stock their liquor in sections that can be locked up while the rest of the store stays open. In some cases they just lock gates around the offending aisles. In other cases – eg the Costco in Waltham – they have a separate store on the premises for the plonk.

      1. Ugh.

        I found out the hard way NH restricts the hours you can buy alcohol. I was at the 24 hour Wal-Mart (the only 24 hour Wal-Mart in NH at the time) and bought a case of beer. It was 1:30 AM. The cashier took the case away because NH prohibits alcohol sales between 1 AM and 6 AM. I had no clue about the law, and there was nothing in the Wal-Mart’s alcohol section stating booze sales were prohibited by state law at certain hours.

        1. I had this shit happen to me in NC. Walked up to the register with a pack of beer, and it was apparently an hour before they were allowed to start selling it on Sunday. Fucking hell.

          1. I noticed that in NC, though the grocery stores where I bought booze in NC had signs stating “No alcohol sales before noon on Sunday”.

          2. When I was a waiter doing Sunday breakfast and brunch, on numerous occasions I had to tell customers I couldn’t get them their Bloody Mary or mimosa until 9am. This is in Maine.

        2. New Hampshire? Shouldn’t they change their state slogan, due to embarrassment?

          1. Yes. On the other hand, it makes a good joke.

          2. Meh, nothing’s perfect. All states have at least some stupid liquor laws. I never stay up late enough to care anymore anyway.

            Perhaps we should change to “Live free, and/or die. Eventually.”

            NH is starting to allow bars to stay open later. Not sure if that applies to stores too. We have state liquor stores too, but they are actually quite nice and have good prices. And are open on Sundays.

            1. NH is starting to allow bars to stay open later. Not sure if that applies to stores too.

              The weirdest thing about moving to NH? Going to a bar late and discovering that bars closed at 11 or 11:30 PM. I was very happy to hear about the change in the law.

              I don’t believe it applies to stores.

              We have state liquor stores too, but they are actually quite nice and have good prices. And are open on Sundays.

              I think New England being small and it being easy to go to another state has something to do with that. I always thought the only difference between the PA liquor stores and videos I’ve seen of Soviet stores is that the PA liquor stores have a little more product and English speaking staff.

              1. I think that before the law change they could be open until 1. You must have gone to a place where they just wanted to go home. Stores usually stop selling beer at 11:30, though I think the law technically says 12 midnight.

                NH liquor stores definitely know that they get a lot of business from surrounding states, which definitely helps keep prices low and the stores pretty nice.

                1. It was in Manchester, NH. It was the late 90s.

        3. Haha I moved back to TX and tried to buy beer at 10:30am on a Sunday. Nope. No beer til noon on Sunday.

          1. So I assume you headed straight for the nearest church, since the intent is probably to stop people getting drunk when it’s church time and intentions always work out. And if it was Catholic you could get some wine.

    3. Don’t feel bad, the vast majority of grocery stores in Massachusetts are NOT allowed to sell liquor. The vast majority of them cannot even sell wine and beer.

      Only three stores belonging to the same owner can sell alcohol, these stores cannot be located in the same town. In other words Shaws (or Trader Joe’s) has only 3 stores in MA that sell alcohol. Also, most grocery stores that sell alcohol sell only beer and wine. There must be additional restrictions on selling hard liquor that I am not familiar with.

      1. I remember when the referendum to loosen restrictions on grocery store licensing of alcohol sales in MA took place. Lots of stupidity: “We need to protect small specialty liquor stores from the Big Box stores!”, “For the Children!”, etc. etc.

  3. Pennsyltucky is THE most backwards, crony, nanny, government corrupt, pathetic state in the union. And the sheep living there, not knowing any better, not only tolerate it, but endorse it. Heyna, er no?


    Thank Christ I escaped!

    1. Enh, every state is messed up in one way or another. Here in NY we have (relatively) freed-up liquor laws, but… otherwise it’s NY. Most people don’t feel like hopping around from one state to another looking for the best mix of laws, so… they deal.

      1. +1 always try another bodega

    2. Oh, get over it. No Union in which the Illinois Democrat Machine operates and the National Disgrace that is New Jersey exists is topped on the Nanny list by Penn.

      Which isn’t to say tyat Penn is a bastion of enlightenment.

    3. You grew up in NE PA if I remember correctly? Things are a little odd up there. In the part of SE PA where I grew up, tax evasion and ignoring stupid laws were a favored past-time.

      1. I should add for the purposes of full disclosure, one of my grandmothers was born and raised in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area. I think there are still living relatives of mine there, but I don’t know any of them.

      2. Oh, ya. Dares nutin better dan goin shapin up de Eynon after a couple two, tree beers on a Saturdy night. Heyna, er no?

        1. Translation:

          Yes, there is nothing better than going shopping at the retail stores in the town of Eynon (north of Scranton), after having two or three beers on a Saturday night. Wouldn’t you agree?

        2. 🙂

          Speaking of NE PA, I picked up some Susquehanna Brewing on a trip back to PA. I didn’t know they are based in Pittston. I drank whatever it was I bought, and said, “This is pretty damned good, not the best, but damn good.” Then I discovered where they are based. I was shocked.

          1. People in NEPA drinking something other than Yuengling? I am shocked!

            1. Which is a huge step up from the Genny Cream Ale we drank as kids.

              1. Oh, and about Genny: I tried it once. That was enough.

            2. I like Yuengling, and still drink it, but I realize there are other beers out there, and some are better than Yuengling.

              1. PA got a few good breweries. Victory is one of the best in the country, and I’m usually quite happy with my purchases from Weyerbacher and Yards. There’s also Vault in Yardley and Triumph in New Hope and Philly if brewpubs are your thing.

                1. Weyerbacher and Yards produce excellent beers. Troegs has some good stuff too.

                  1. I forgot. Lancaster Brewing is good too.

                2. Troegs. Good stuff.

                  1. Get your Nugget Nectar while it’s still in the stores!

              2. But for the price/taste it’s a good value.

  4. Sadly, the Senate in PA is completely in the control of the unions even though it is supposedly controlled by the Republican party. They couldn’t pass this bill when they had a Republican governor – so there is zero chance of it happening now.

    1. Also why crushing pension obligations aren’t going anywhere until math forces it.

      Maybe the City of Easton will stop providing services altogether and only become a pass-through entity for the unions. Then the Democrats will have to choose between the poor and the unions.

    2. Well, maybe not. They might pass it on a “That damn Democrat in the Govorner’s mansiion will veto it, and that gives us a,club to beat him with” basis.

      Of course, then the strategusts have to come out with a way to make tye Govorner NOT veto it….

  5. I live in Ohio near the Ohio river.The place I shop has a great selection of beers ,wines and liquor. They have younger people working there ,for most likely just over min. wage. Not High priced union stock boys (and gals).My only problem with them is the don’t stock Bass Ale.They have a big selection and no Bass.

    1. Party Source, Bellevue, Kentucky. It’s the joint.

      1. I really like Bass,and Sam Smith,and Sam Adams,ect. Love oat meal stout and ,of course Guinness

        1. Time to start making your own. With my all-grain setup I can make the equivalent of two and a half cases for about thirty bucks (or less) worth of ingredients.

  6. “state should not be in the business of providing goods and services that the private sector can deliver far more effectively, efficiently, and equitably”

    Too bad the private sector is too profit oriented to deliver any goods effectivly, efficiently and equitably. Especailly education, health care, and of course the internet.


    1. I’ve had numerous conversations with progressive types who insisted that government’s lack of profit motive made it more efficient. That’s right. By not wasting money on profits to rich people, government could deliver goods and services more cheaply. They said this with a straight face.

      1. The most tragic aspect of this mind frame is that most progressives do not know the difference between profit and revenue.

        1. Most don’t know the difference between money, wealth, and value. Nor do they have any understanding of the price system. So when government prints money, because they can buy stuff with it they figure the money is wealth. Or when someone is worth X amount of dollars in wealth, they figure they can extract that amount of dollars from the person. Or when the price of something is more than they’re willing to pay, or less than they think it should be worth, that government can magically fix it.

          In short, progressives don’t know shit about economics.

      2. The obvious answer to that is “Fine. Let the private sector compete, even though the State has the advantage — but don’t pass a law prohibiting them from competing.”

        1. That’s what happens now. The corporations just buy the politicians. Get the money out of politics and the private sector would die overnight. Corporations aren’t people. /prog

      3. Progressives would be funny if they weren’t so damn dangerous.

        1. Yep, One my last exchanges was when a FB friend stated that it was better that FCC was in control than Comcast. Even as a state created monopoly I’d still rather have Comcast in control as I still have the power of exit and can use DirectTV.

        2. Stupid, easily misled, and in possession of authority.

          The issue of “net neutrality” and all the people bringing up Comcast and Netflix is proof of just how misinformed and/or easily misled huge chunks of the left are.

      4. The left tends to confuse the state with the people. In the liberal’s mind, when the state owns something, the people own it.

        On the other hand, when an individual privately owns something, he acts as a middleman extracting “rent” from its use by others. Therefore, that something is more expensive.

        Their confusion is a national tragedy.

        1. Yeah. I was listening to NPR and they were talking about how come company had ripped people off, and how the money should go back to the people. Then he said oh wait! They paid a big fine to the government! We did get our money back!


          1. If corporations, as an entity, aren’t “people,” then how come governments, as an entity, are “people”?

            1. Governments aren’t just people, they’re the people! It says there right in the Constitution! We the People!

              Corporations are just evil equivalents of feudal lords, enslaving society by providing goods, services and jobs to voluntary takers! It’s horrible! They’re monsters! They must be stopped or they’ll enslave us all!

            2. Umm… The President is a person. And he helps people, I saw it on the news. All he wants to do is help people. Corporations aren’t people. They aren’t the President. All they want to do is hurt people for profit. Who’s the corporations president? Some rich guy? /prog

  7. Will Pennsylvania Drag Itself into the 19th Century by Privatizing State Liquor Stores?


    That really didn’t take a full article to answer.

    1. You’re hired.

      1. Pay by the word? I’ll starve.

  8. You make $27 per hour good for you! I make up to $85 per hour working from home. My story is that I quit working at shoprite to work online and with a little effort I easily bring in around 45 Dollar per hour to 85 Dollar per hour heres a good example of what I’m doing more detail here….

  9. Is there something coming down the (turn)pike to make me think things are going to change in Harrisburg? No, Pennsylvania isn’t going to reform jack fucking shit because its leaders are assholes and its voters are morons.

    1. The PA turnpike is the worst.

  10. That map is all kind of wrong for Maryland.

    You can’t buy booze in grocery stores at all and there is no sale of liquor on Sundays. Stores will block off the hard stuff. *One* grocery store per chain, per county, can sell beer and wine. That’s it.

    And Monkey County still has a monopoly on booze, which is why I go to PG County to buy my liquor.

    1. You CAN sell liquor on Sunday in MD, it’s just really hard to get licensed to do. My Baltimore neighborhood had a store that jumped through all the hoops and finally got a Sunday sales license. It was fantastic. Now I live in MN which makes MD look positively libertarian. No exceptions to the Sunday sales ban here.

  11. Sounds like a job for Liquid Snake.

  12. Being born and raised in California where you can barely go three blocks in most cities/suburbs without finding a place you can buy a bottle of any type of alcohol, these restrictions in other states are simply bizarre to me.

  13. I’ve made $64,000 so far this year working online and I’m a full time student. I’m using an online business opportunity I heard about and I’ve made such great money. It’s really user friendly and I’m just so happy that I found out about it. Heres what I’ve been doing,,,,,,

  14. may not be a silver bullet (hat tip: Coors Light)

    Bob Seger would like a word with you.

  15. Unfortunately, reading some of the comments on the linked news stories, it’s the same old song and dance, even with the voters.

    Start offering freedom to people, and you’d be shocked and surprised how many get panicky and resist it.

    The revenue argument inevitably comes up. Which is an argument I don’t understand. If the reason for the state monopoly in liquor is that “it makes money”, why doesn’t the state have a monopoly on groceries, tee shirts, jogging shoes or iPhone sales?

    I’ve yet to see one person eloquently answer that question.

    1. Even Scots didn’t vote for freedom when they had the chance.

  16. Will Pennsylvania drag itself into the 21st Century and stop being dictators and know it alls in regard to smoking and personal privacy rights, along with Private Enterprises’ rights to trademarks on packages, etc. etc.

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