A sip of history: Why does PA have state liquor stores?

By Randy LoBasso
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 14 | Posted Jul. 2, 2014

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As, of course, have efforts in general to get Pennsylvania out of the liquor business.

The most recent push to put the state stores to bed has taken place over the last three years. Republican Gov. Tom Corbett actually campaigned on the issue—which is something only a Republican governor can do today, given the political strength of the UFBW Local 1776 that represents the state liquor employees. Corbett’s efforts, though, like those of numerous governors before him, has been lots of bluster, very little bite.

Yes, the issue is popular with voters. But arguments for changing the system—to, say, allow private ownership of liquor stores, allow beer to be sold in all convenience stores and grocery markets, and give Pennsylvanians more beer specials at their favorite watering holes—has never gotten the sort of traction that brings together majorities in both the state House and Senate at the same time as in the executive branch of the state government.

And it’s not just because God hates us. That liquor store clerks get paid well and are trained according to state standards—honestly, that’s a big deal. It’s hard to be the guy to literally take a living wage away from thousands of state workers, even if Governor Corbett has generally managed during his tenure to make that kind of austerity-based slash-and-burn look like he’s having a blast.

The fact that Pennsylvania is able to buy all its liquor wholesale has largely kept the prices of our alcohol low, too—which we’d really be able to see if the state were ever to remove that “temporary” flood tax. Which, well, doesn’t seem likely.

All that said, there’s another silver lining here.

According to Mark Noon’s book Yuengling: A History of American’s Oldest Brewery, those controversial laws are partially responsible for Yuengling’s success and, perhaps, its ability to exist as the largest American-owned brewery in the United States. See, open-market beer sales in other states have helped create an atmosphere where the cheapest, most watered-down swill has sold the best. You see it in places like Wal-Mart, where, in other states, Coors, Miller and Bud cases can be found in gigantic stacks with large, handprinted signs reading “$19.99.” Not so with Yuengling. Heck, thanks to newly revised standards at the Brewers Association, next year Yuengling will officially be designated as a “craft” beer.

With the craft market as strong as it is today—and Philly deemed “America’s Greatest Beer Drinking City,” at least by Philadelphians—you could make the argument that Yuengling exists as the powerhouse that it is today specifically because of those laws. So thanks for that, at least, Gifford Pinchot: You helped a Pennsylvania brewery conquer the nation. Not bad for a dry guy.  

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Comments 1 - 14 of 14
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1. Anonymous said... on Jul 2, 2014 at 11:15AM

“Nothing new but a fascinating history lesson.

It's time to abolish the PLCB and let liquor and beer and wine be purchased anywhere.

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2. Anonymous said... on Jul 2, 2014 at 01:15PM

“Except for the dopey Johnstown tax, the overall pricing for products in the state stores, especially wines, compares favorably with that of surrounding states. The problem with the State Stores is selection: compared to stores in Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey, they carry a limited number of products, and the only way you can get something that's not in their liquor list is to order a case of it. Granted, there are a few gourmet wine stores in the Philadelphia region that have a larger selection, but they're few and far between, and usually a long trip for most people. For that reason alone, I would like to see liquor sales privatized. Doing this would, hopefully, open up the world of booze significantly to Pennsyvanians.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Jul 2, 2014 at 02:11PM

“"In most states, the end of national Prohibition meant the reinstatement of the freedom to get punk in drublic..."


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4. Anonymous said... on Jul 2, 2014 at 03:54PM

“Privatizing the State Stores would not wreak havoc of the unionized workers at these stores as has been frequently stated. The new stores would need qualified workers and one would assume that the current unionized workers could qualify for many of the the available new jobs. The work rules and quality of the customer service would be different (much improved one hopes) and the selection of wines would be dramatically improved. One would hope that the Johnstown tax would disappear and the pricing would become competitive with other stores in other states.”

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5. SenorCovert said... on Jul 2, 2014 at 05:44PM

“Seems like someone missed the joke, in the "punk in drublic"...."I'm sorry you're not as think as you smart you are!"”

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6. Albert Brooks said... on Jul 2, 2014 at 11:14PM

“State stores do nothing except keep people employeed by the state store. We are not safer, we are not better served and we are not satisfied.”

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7. Anonymous said... on Jul 3, 2014 at 10:38AM

“Any government federal or state that owns a retail establishment will always be "stupid is as stupid does".”

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8. Anonymous said... on Jul 3, 2014 at 12:42PM

“I'd prefer the clean, safe looking state stores over the filthy dangerous ones in NJ any day. WBRE did an 'expose' story on prices and PA actually beat NJ, and NY. And besides, selling an asset is never a good thing.”

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9. Anonymous said... on Jul 3, 2014 at 01:49PM

“Yeah, people should never sell stock, cars, houses, buildings, land or even antiques. Selling assets is never a good thing.”

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10. Anonymous said... on Jul 8, 2014 at 10:25PM

“"General Assembly imposed an emergency tax on the state: specifically, 10 percent on all wine and liquor sales to help pay for the flood damage.
This tax, easy to create and regulate since it was on a product the government already had full control over, was originally intended to be temporary."

That is the problem with these new taxes that are being proposed and the ones implemented in the past. Once they get passed as being "temporary" you can forget about ever repealing them. Case in point, the "temporary" 7% state sales tax in Philadelphia. Not only was it never repealed, it has been raised to a "temporary" 8% sales tax. But I don't blame these politicians for thinking we are stupid because we keep sending them back election after election.

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11. Anonymous said... on Jul 9, 2014 at 08:22PM

“Also keep in mind that Pennsylvania is one of the worlds largest single purchasers as the state orders as a whole. Bulk sales equals price breaks yet the public does not see them.”

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12. Anonymous said... on Jul 15, 2014 at 03:23PM

“"filthy dangerous ones in NJ"??? Maybe if you stopped buying your MD 20 20 in Camden...”

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13. eazy L nyc said... on Jul 18, 2014 at 05:38PM

“NoFx represent”

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14. Michael Pajewski said... on Mar 21, 2015 at 04:14PM

“Keep them State owner. Its a goose that lays golden eggs year in and year out. Sell now and get a bundle of cash sounds great but when the cash is spent and gone the state stores will continue to make bundles of cash.
not to mention the middle class jobs of th specialists that work in the stores. Do you think as the wages drop the prices of wine and liquor will? Nope. Thr workers will get wage cuts and thats more money in the pocket of new owners.
States are always looking for increased funding. Sellng off money-Making assets is short sighted. Its great if theres no tomorrow. But there is. Its tying the hands of future generations to fix their money funding problems. Because they will always be there. The republicans wanna say "we fixed this" but in all honesty they want their cronies to have the golden goose. Dont be stupid. Dont privatize State stores.


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