Pennsylvania Has Made It Both Difficult and Dangerous to Buy Liquor

The state has shut down all liquor stores, leading customers to crowd into retailers across the border.


Last week, Canal's Discount Liquor Mart, a liquor store in New Jersey located near the Pennsylvania border, reopened after several days of self-enforced closure.

The store's owner had closed its doors because, like many New Jersey liquor stores along the state border, it had been flooded with customers in what Paul Santelle, executive director of the New Jersey Liquor Store Association, described to as "a panic, a tsunami of business." 

The crush of customers, which the store's owner said reached more than 120 percent of the store's usual weekend capacity, didn't come from inside the state. Instead, it came from Pennsylvania, which closed all of its liquor stores on March 16. 

Pennsylvania, a "control state" in which every liquor store is operated by the state, has some of the most onerous rules governing alcohol sales in the nation.

The state's response during the COVID-19 pandemic provides both an unfortunate reminder of the folly of giving the state government a near-monopoly over liquor sales—and an object lesson in how the closure of businesses in the name of public health can backfire.

The shuttering of Pennsylvania's state-run stores meant that for weeks, it was nearly impossible to buy liquor legally within state borders. Only in-state distilleries licensed for direct consumer sales were able to sell spirits.

"By closing all the stores, what they are doing is forcing a lot of people to simply go out of state," says David Ozgo, the Senior Vice President of Economic & Strategic Analysis for DISCUS, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Ozgo notes that while other states also own and operate liquor stores, Pennsylvania is "the only state in the country that has taken this extreme measure." 

That didn't just make it harder for Pennsylvanians to buy liquor. It also made it unusually dangerous, as the experience of liquor retailers across the border in New Jersey shows. As Matt Dogali, the president and CEO of the American Distilled Spirits Alliance, told me, "It's counter to [COVID-19–related] containment measures to force people to travel long distances to crowded stores."  

Social distancing guidelines encourage people to travel as little as possible and to keep their distance when in the presence of others. That's much harder to do when the only option for purchasing liquor involves crossing a border. At least one county in West Virginia now prohibits the sale of liquor to Pennsylvania residents in order to stem the tide of border-crossing customers.

Pennsylvania's closure of spirits stores sparked a similar effect inside the state, with customers reportedly rushing to state-run stores the day before they closed, resulting in record sales.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the stores were not ready for the deluge. "We are depleted to a level we have never experienced before," a liquor board spokesperson told in March, "because we were unable to plan for this rush of business." 

So the rushed state shutdown of liquor stores didn't just inconvenience residents—it repeatedly created situations of presumably unsafe crowding. It is reasonable to assume that the move negatively impacted public health in Pennsylvania, the opposite of the intended effect.

Last week, the state announced that it would allow some sales through its online portal. But the state-run website crashed almost immediately after opening, then stopped taking orders, citing "overwhelming demand." 

The state's liquor control board subsequently announced a plan to reopen the online sales portal in a limited capacity, with a smaller selection of wines and spirits available and a limit of six bottles per transaction and one order per customer per day. However, as of Monday afternoon, the site was still displaying a message indicating that the store was "not available at this time." 

There are other concerns as well: In the weeks after closure, liquor suppliers in the state were losing $10 million–$12 million per week, according to Ozgo. That likely translates into millions in lost revenue for the state. Reopening online sales may reduce the economic impact somewhat, but the effects are still likely to be significant. 

Other control states haven't taken the same drastic measures as Pennsylvania. Alabama, for example, closed its liquor stores but is allowing curbside pickup—albeit with strict limits on purchase quantities. Virginia, on the other hand, recently announced a plan to bypass state-run stores and let distilleries ship directly to consumers, a practice that's normally prohibited in the state. 

These measures are ostensibly designed to protect both customers and employees. But state control of liquor sales isn't necessary for such precautions to be implemented effectively.

Where I live in Washington, D.C., the many privately owned liquor stores have been able to continue operating after they were dubbed "essential businesses" by the city. These stores have taken elevated health risks seriously while continuing to serve customers. 

In recent weeks, I've seen area liquor store employees wearing surgical gloves and medical masks to protect from infection. Drizly, an online alcohol delivery service that partners with local retailers, makes it possible to get bottles delivered directly to your home from many local liquor stores, without the multiple interactions that in-store transactions sometimes require. Unlike many states, Washington, D.C., also allows residents to purchase and ship liquor from out of state through online outlets such as Caskers.  

And late last month, I received an email from Sherry's Wine & Spirits, one of the city's best liquor stores. The message asked that customers choose delivery or curbside pickup if at all possible, outlined a variety of enhanced sanitization procedures that were being implemented, and urged buyers to switch to contactless payment methods. The note raised the possibility of ending in-store sales but indicated that pickup and delivery options were expected to remain. 

Stores like Sherry's, in other words, are figuring out ways to both stay open for business and stay safe. Pennsylvania, in contrast, by completely shutting down its state-owned liquor stores, has somehow managed to accomplish neither.

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  1. A never ending stream of governments decisions gone wrong.
    And yet you hear: WE NEED MOAR GOVERNMENT!

    1. Only government can fix problems created by government. Jeez, don’t you know anything?

      1. Government: If you think the problems we cause are bad, wait till you see our solution.

        1. I’m so stealing that.

          1. I copied it from a Demotivator I keep at work.

          2. First dibs! And I nominate the stingy sockpuppet for honorary donor status.

      2. The pattern is: government policy and poor regulation cause a crisis. The government publicly and violently searches for culprits, aided by the MSM, and names the wrong parties–usually in the private sector. The government then rolls out a massive new law and its regulatory children to “fix” the problem as they defined it. The new law doesn’t solve the real problem, costs a lot, and has massive unintended consequences, including setting the stage for the next crisis, which will be bigger and more damaging.

        Memory of the past crisis fades and everybody reluctantly adjusts to the massive new regulatory overhead. A new crisis occurs. The government publicly and violently searches for the culprits, aided by the MSM–looking exclusively in the business community…and so it goes.

      3. Government, the concept, caused Covid 19?

        You people have to get a fucking life man.

        1. Commievirus came from the germ lab county in Red China. It’s like no civilian power reactor ever killed anyone until a communist socialist soviet Chernobyl reactor powering military radars was switched off and on for reasons of altruistic experimentation. Man up to it, Tony–explain how red progress requires human sacrifice no less than Islam, then intimidate all skeptics as infidel deniers.

    2. Wolf barely has enough courage (and brains) to follow the leaders around him (e.g. Cuomo, DeWine, etc.). In PA we can buy guns and bear, but no liquor. Churches remain open. Making smart decisions on his own is, no doubt, beyond him. He is just another Republican pretending to be a Democrat.

      1. Wait, you actually think Tom Wolf is ideologically right wing? LOLOL

        1. One has to question whether that guy is even from PA. Wolf is just a center-left statist with a tinge of corporatist. That used to fly in the local GOP with the RINOs, but not anymore. He’s “conservative” when it comes to protecting his family business and authoritarian for everything else.

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    4. I’m wondering if there will be a backlash to all of this stuff…

  2. “It is reasonable to assume that the move negatively impacted public health in Pennsylvania, the opposite of the intended effect.”

    Face it, the intended effect was to demonstrate the government’s control over every aspect of our lives, and it was successful. Instead of driving out of state, those citizens should have gathered, six feet apart, in groups of ten (separated by six and a half feet), at the state capitol and demanded the unconstitutional restriction be formally rescinded.

    Welcome to the revolution; we lost.

    1. Yep. The cabal of globalist totalitarian scum have been planning this out for decades, and now they’re finally starting to put their plans into motion.

    2. That’s a bit harsh, the intended effect is to coddle government employees and provide them with additional paid time off.

      1. Well, that, and crush the rebellion.

  3. While Virginia now allows over 45 distilleries in the state to ship their product directly to your home.

  4. I live in PA, about 15 minutes from the DE border. There is a huge Total Wine almost immediately as you cross into DE. PA residents were streaming over the border to buy liquor. Reports say that DE state troopers are stopping cars with PA license plates and warning them. They have stepped up to searching some cars.
    I have never like PA governor Tom Wolf. He has gradually tightened his grip during this pandemic, but unsurprisingly deemed his own kitchen cabinet making business as essential until investigative reporters discovered it and made it public. Just disgusting.

    1. Is it not an unconstitutional act for Delaware to close its businesses to Penna. customers while allowing Delawarites to shop to their heart’s content? Feds are quick to invoke their interstate commerce powers in other instances.

      1. Let the lawsuits begin.

        1. Who ya gonna sue?

          1. Governor of Delaware in federal district court in Delaware.

      2. The constitution has been suspended bro, we’re under martial law now. You seriously didn’t notice?

  5. But the state-run website crashed almost immediately after opening, then stopped taking orders, citing “overwhelming demand.”

    Yet more proof that private enterprise just doesn’t work. It’s really a crime when capitalists refuse to produce stuff that’s in high demand. Like, when 3M stopped producing masks due to overwhelming demand, President Trump stepped in, invoked the Defense Production Act and ordered them to start producing masks again and now 3M is producing the masks as fast as they can. Perhaps the governor of Pennsylvania could learn a lesson and just order these liquor stores to start selling liquor.

    1. PA liquor stores are all owned and run by the state. Hard liquor is not sold by private stores. Beer can be sold by distributors, over the counter at bars, and in some “subs and suds” stores. In recent years, some restaurants have been allowed to have beer and wine sales, but they have to obtain a restaurant liquor license to do it, and must serve prepared food to get one of those. Of course now, sitting in a restaurant to eat is now forbidden, so the supermarket has to limit beer and wine sales to “take-out.” In matters like these I am embarrassed to say that I was born in PA and lived there for nine years after I retired.

  6. BREAKING NEWS: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is so overcrowded with a-holes they might as well call it West Philadelphia.

    1. This corolla virus thingy has done nothing to change the behavior of the public, in general. Generally people are egocentric, greedy, selfish, stupid, venal and some times dangerous. But now with more toilet paper in the pantry.

      But but but one thing that really bothers me about this whole thing: my regular supplier of bush game from the local wet market is hoarding what we here love most: bats, snakes, armadillos and other delicacies unavailable at my Kings Sooper. So what’s with that?

  7. The state’s liquor control board subsequently announced a plan to reopen the online sales portal in a limited capacity …. [As] of Monday afternoon, the site was still displaying a message indicating that the store was “not available at this time.”

    And so the “limited capacity” plan has been realized. What more do Pennsylvanians want?

  8. What do you get when you mix control freaks, a state monopoly, crony capitalists, government employee unions, temperance nannies, and a legacy of cult-like colonial roots?

    1. The democratic party?

    2. Democrats?

    3. Too frickin’ easy. Pennsylvania. You get Pennsylvania.

      Take it from a Pennsylvanian.

      1. We would have also given partial credit for Utah.

    4. Is it really necessary to always be a skeptic of everything? Except Any Rand’s infinite wisdom of course.

      1. The Ayn Rand that said it would be a moral crime for John Hospers to take votes away from Dick Nixon? Note that those votes stopped Dixiecrats from banning contraception! Rand, like Einstein, made all kinds of stupid mistakes. Einstein endorsed socialism even after National Socialists killed millions of agorist Europeans. So we exploit the things both of them got right.

    5. Communo-fascist socialism?

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  10. “Where I live in Washington, D.C., the many privately owned liquor stores have been able to continue operating after they were dubbed “essential businesses” by the city.”

    Hmmm…the mayor’s proclamation lists “liquor stores” as essential, but (at least with CTRL-F) I couldn’t find the reference to gun stores.

    1. “firearm” and “weapon” didn’t produce any results either.

    2. Just because they aren’t screwing up one thing doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of screwing up something else. You may already realize, but in case you don’t, even if the mayor *had* declared gun stores as essential, there wouldn’t be any open, because there aren’t any to be open.

  11. Absolutely nothing more than pandering to the very powerful Union that covers the State Store employees.

  12. The PLCB will never be accused of 2 things.
    1. Competence
    2. Concern for the citizens.

    Their best is to do as little as possible to keep the PLCB alive against decades of change that the citizens want. Now is the best time to shutter them and privatize the system.

  13. Good for them, we all know how well prohibition worked out. It’s just not in the way this asshole wants.

  14. Its NOT dangerous to be around other people.

    STOP with the hysteria unreason.

    1. Okay, find the nearest human and eat their shit and die, you ridiculous excuse for a mammal.

  15. Prohibitionism rears its ugly head again. Any reason at all will be used in the war on drink.

    W T F ! These folks would be happy to have some Islamic nutjob running things. Why stop at booze? Gays? Check. Interest on loans? Check. Women driving ? Check.

    What ever happened to English Common Law?

  16. Liquor stores are the only places I venture out to nowadays. My go-to shops have cashiers wearing masks and have put up plastic barriers at the registers. It’s the one risk I’m willing to take. You wouldn’t like me when i’m sober.

  17. I don’t know why this is funny to me, but I’m wondering if there will be a backlash to all of this stuff.
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  18. People joke about Florida man, but our great state of PA really is king in terms of bullshit rules and regs. The PLCB is a farce and I would love to know how we’re supposed to get rid of it. Every politician who promises reform can’t say no to the tax dollars once they win election. You can vote them out all you want but another one always takes their place.

  19. When I was growing up in Iowa, we had Pennsylvania-style liquor control, dialed up to 11. You couldn’t even touch the bottles – you stood in front of a counter and handed a slip listing your desired boozes to a government worker, who then assembled your stuff from the rather limited supply. At least the state was honest – it stated very clearly that the purpose of the state liquor commission was “control,” not “sales.”

    I left Iowa. Years later when I returned, the whole state looked like a libertarian Booze Paradise. You can buy the stuff anywhere, no government drones involved. Selection is what you would expect in a state full of thirsty college students as well as normal people. How did this happen? It shows, perhaps, that Pennsylvania can be reformed, but I’ll be darned if I know what brought about this miraculous transformation in my home state. Maybe Iowa has a better supply of pitchforks than Pennsylvania.

  20. Observe that religious superstition has since the Civil War sought to ban liquor/beer. It has since banned all safer alternatives such as hemp, coca, cactus, mushroom and woodrose drugs with thousands killed by enforcement goons and artificial criminality which was for centuries victimless among free people. THIS is sold to veevee-addled voters as the only alternative to favoring subsidized communist democratic party brainwashees with their ballots. These are the ballots LP candidates are barred from at all hazards.

  21. Lived in NEPA for 18 months in ’09-’10. PA is easily one of the most corrupt states in the country from the judges who get paid to ship kids to jail and the mafia controlled “state run” alcohol stores. Just as I was leaving there was a state politician that was proposing ending the draconian and corrupt alcohol regulations. Looks like he failed if a decade later nothing has changed.

  22. Nice information provided by you, it really helped me to understand this topic.I have also referred this article to my friends Transen in NRW and they also enjoyed this informative post.

  23. Since when is the sale of liquor an essential business? So some states are skirting the shutdown requirement…yet Pennsylvania is terrible because they complied with the shutdown? Interesting thought process..

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