PA’s Disgraceful Liquor Laws

It's time for a change. But is it coming?

By Tom Cowell
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 78 | Posted Jan. 12, 2010

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It’s looking like a banner year for booze in Philly. State lawmakers and the Liquor Control Board (LCB) plan to take a radical step to improve our access to alcohol. But don’t get too excited. The plan doesn’t include six-pack sales in grocery stores. It doesn’t allow for independent wine and liquor stores. It doesn’t even add more state-run stores, or longer hours of operation or any change in the liquor laws that Philadelphians would actually appreciate. Instead, lawmakers and the LCB bring you the weirdest idea in retail history: Wine vending machines. Starting in May, the state liquor authority will install 100 wine kiosks throughout Pennsylvania.

The plan, apparently designed to sell as little product as possible, promises to deliver a bizarre customer experience. Patrons use a touch screen to select the wine they want and blow into a breathalyzer to confirm their sobriety (get used to the phrase “state-store cold sore”). Then, the customer must swipe his or her ID, and be photographed by a camera connected to a communication center in Harrisburg, where a state LCB employee can confirm the person’s identity.

LCB’s spokesman Nick Hays believes the machines will “increase consumer convenience and provide better … service.” Surely customers would be better served by having more full-service stores than experimenting with so-far untested and rather creepy technology. The LCB, which runs the state's wine and spirits stores and directly employs all 4,000 clerks and managers throughout the system, proclaims the initiative “unprecedented,” and Pennsylvania will indeed be the first state in the nation to sell wine out of a vending machine.

But the idea is unprecedented mainly because it’s bad. Japan is the only country in the world where alcohol is widely purchased from vending machines, and even there, the technology is subject to a voluntary ban by liquor storeowners due to the chronic inability to prevent abuse by minors. Apart from the intrusion and privacy concerns the plan raises, it seems like a commercial train wreck in the making.

Hungover Bureaucracy

The wine vending machine serves as the perfect metaphor for the failures of Pennsylvania’s Capone-era alcohol policy: An absurd, patronizing and pointless rip-off that by rights should be blown up. If you look hard at our government-dominated system for controlling the sale of booze in Philly and across the state, there are only cons. Pennsylvania’s liquor laws and liquor-retail monopoly deliver none of the benefits—politicians promise cost (the state gets great bulk discounts) and public gain (profits are supposed to come back to the state, for the good of the people)—and do not prevent the abuses—safety (preventing sales to minors or intoxicated drivers)—they claim to protect us from.

Drinkers know how difficult it is to purchase booze in Philadelphia, especially for those without cars or a yen for long walks. Many neighborhoods, including Fishtown, Logan, Cedarbrook, West Oak Lane and Bridesburg have no wine and spirits store at all.

If you’ve ever asked yourself: “Is it harder to buy booze here than anywhere else in nation?” The answer is a loud yes. There are 618 state-run stores in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. To put that number in perspective, there are more wine and spirits stores in the city of Chicago than there are in our entire state, despite Pennsylvania having four times as many people. A recent paper by two Wharton professors says Pennsylvania has the fewest liquor retailers per person than any state in the nation. We even have fewer stores today than we did in 2006.

Pennsylvanians love a stiff drink just as much as the next patriot—the National Institutes for Health says the average Quaker Stater drinks 2.2 gallons of alcohol each year, only slightly less than the national average of 2.3 gallons. So why on earth does Pennsylvania have so few places to buy a bottle? Well, it’s not a matter of taste. The simple truth is our government wanted it that way … in 1933.

When Prohibition was repealed, state lawmakers scrambled to write their own restrictive laws on alcohol. Like many others, Pennsylvania adopted a strict control system, in which the state retained the sole right to retail wines and spirits. The legislature passed a paternalistic liquor code (still on the books largely unchanged) that openly declared its intent to “prohibit forever the open saloon.”

It also created the LCB as a civil agency responsible for both enforcing the code and selling liquor for profit (two responsibilities seemingly at odds with one another).

Over time, most states abandoned or reformed these monopolies. Harrisburg never did. Today, several states including Pennsylvania and Utah have monopolies that remain, but even Utah doesn't use our quirky state-store setup.

Philadelphians have no legal way of avoiding the system. If you buy alcohol in Jersey or Delaware and bring it back to the Keystone state, by law you risk up to 90 days in jail—you can’t even arrange to pay the state tax. Supporters of the LCB claim that our vintage setup actually works pretty well and represents a great trade-off. Though customers sacrifice the convenience enjoyed by drinkers elsewhere, the system’s boosters insist, there are benefits that outweigh the disadvantages. The big three usually cited are safety, cost and public gain. If delivered right, it sounds like a powerful argument for sticking with the status quo.

Sadly, it’s all bunk. 

Distilling the Myths

None of these alleged benefits stand up to serious scrutiny. Take the safety argument. Wendell Young, president of UFCW Local 1776, the union which represents about 2,400 state-store employees, states passionately that “the control factor is phenomenal,” and touts the state stores’ safety record. “In more than five years … there have only been two cases of wine and spirit employees serving minors.” Yet Pennsylvania teenagers have been getting drunk pretty successfully since Prohibition, regardless of who sells it, or how. According to the National Surrey on Drug Use and Health, a government-funded project, Pennsylvania’s underage drinking rate remains above average for the 50 states (22nd out of 51) despite the most restrictive system in the country, and that rate hasn't changed much in recent years.

Likewise, state-store supporters brag about their record of never selling to intoxicated drivers. Yet an awful lot of Pennsylvanians still manage to kill people while drunk behind the wheel. Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show the Commonwealth remains above average at 15th in DUI fatalities per mile driven. Well below average at wasting people while wasted are Illinois drivers (32nd), despite the fact their solemn right to buy limitless beer, wine and liquor in local supermarkets.

That doesn’t mean that Illinoisans are better people than us or that our teenagers are inherently less responsible than the typical American youths. It simply shows that personal decisions about alcohol are weird, cultural and unpredictable, and that there’s probably no hard-and-fast relationship between the systems we use to sell ourselves alcohol, and how individuals decide to use or abuse it.

A 2009 report by the Commonwealth Foundation showed that in two states that deregulated their liquor retail systems (Iowa in 1987 and West Virginia in 1990), total alcohol consumption actually fell after the law change. Believing that a one-size-fits-all bureaucracy can make our consumption of alcohol any safer or rarer is a fantasy, and the numbers show it.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 78 of 78
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1. LewBryson said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 12:21AM

“Thank you, Tom. Nice summation.

PRIVATIZE IT NOW!!”

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2. kris said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 02:31AM

“"Many neighborhoods, including Fishtown... have no wine and spirits store at all." really? then the location on 3rd and girard must be a mirage.”

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3. kris said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 02:34AM

“as for bridesburg... 4346 Frankford Ave.”

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4. Captain Chaos said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 08:07AM

“SCREW THE LCB ! 90 days in jail? Bull..., more people need ballz like Lew Bryson and Brendan Hartranft, they drove a keg back from Maryland and then bragged about it at Lew's website ! If the LCB tried to step foot in Resurrection Ale House at 2425 Grays Ferry Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19146 WE WOULD KICK SOME LCB ARSE !

Brendan's planning a drive down to Baltimore to (hopefully) pick up a keg of Resurrection Ale from Brewers Art for the opening. (yay!)"
http://lewbryson.blogspot.com/2009/07/another-leigh-and-brendan-operation.html”

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5. Jake said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 09:25AM

“We shall revolt...

If Improv Everywhere could get 1200 people to ride the subway with no pants could we get 1200 people at one time to cross the border to NJ or PA , buy a single bottle of wine or beer, then return to PA, call the State Police and let them book all 1200 of us for breaking the law? I think we could. Can you imaging how ridiculed the PLCB would be in the eyes of the whole nation for doing this? Victory is within our reach! Revolt drinking brothers and sisters!

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6. Jake said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 09:26AM

“Correction:

We shall revolt...

If Improv Everywhere could get 1200 people to ride the subway with no pants could we get 1200 people at one time to cross the border to NJ or DE , buy a single bottle of wine or beer, then return to PA, call the State Police and let them book all 1200 of us for breaking the law? I think we could. Can you imaging how ridiculed the PLCB would be in the eyes of the whole nation for doing this? Victory is within our reach! Revolt drinking brothers and sisters!

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7. Ed said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 09:33AM

“Revolt !!!! I am driving to NJ after work today and buying two cases of wine and drinking them outside the shitty liquor store near my home !”

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8. BringBackNewman said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 09:43AM

“Replace Patrick J. Stapleton, III and Joseph Conti with Tom Cowell and Lew Bryson !!! Call your Senator, write to the PA LCB losers at their email links below, let them know we are disgusted !

Look at these guys, they look like they run a failed dinosaur.

http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=514&objID=611880&mode=2

http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=514&objID=611882&mode=2”

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9. Pete LaVerghetta said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 09:46AM

“Damn, Jake, that is a fantastic idea. I'm not much for no-pants subway rides, but that simple act of civil disobedience is just brilliant. No-pants got CNN, UPI, AP and probably BBC coverage. I'm in.”

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10. Whiney said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 09:47AM

“What about all the tax revenue that would be generated with private owners? The state would not lose money, only gain. More stores that are better run with more selection equals more sales and taxes. Everyone who loves wine does not buy it a PA store. Unions are once again are killing Philadelphia. The building trades killed the convention center, architecture and growth. Septa.... It seems like Philly just wants to be second class city. Options that appeal to its residents will increase the tax base by attracting more people. Just keep paying the unions....”

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11. meridyth said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 10:49AM

“Hell, yeah, there should be an organized Booze without Borders (?) walk across the Ben Franklin Bridge to Mancine's liquors located under the bridge. Although it may not be the ideal (or safest) choice they offer wine, liquor AND beer all in the same store...and till midnight! Ideally this would take place during beer week as to maximize publicity and attendance.
Just sayin'.”

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12. meridyth said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 10:51AM

“Forgot:
*Insert PW's disclaimer here.”

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13. Hipster Home said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 11:15AM

“The LCB is a joke! They will never ever do the right thing and privatize the liquor system because it would expose how much of a failure the whole program has been. Imagine having boutique wine stores to purchase your wine where the product isn't merchandised like pharmaceutical products. Imagine having information about the product to help you make the correct purchases. Imagine having wine tastings prior to purchase so you can make assertive decisions. And imagine having great new selections to choose from each and every year so that your own choices aren't stale and homogenized. No, all you get is the same old overproduced, liquor anywhere in the world. If you think you live in a free America, well then welcome to the controlled state of Pennsylvania.”

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14. RU Underaware said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 11:19AM

“Easy solution to the problem.

Fire them all (house and senate).”

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15. PA, Laughing Stock of the US said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 11:32AM

“Ugh. This article makes me sick to my stomach. Somebody take me to jail please because for the last year or two I've been driving over to NJ for all of my alcohol needs. Apparently in PA they never thought that people may want to buy BEER and WINE or LIQUOR at the SAME place?

Why LCB supporters are out of their mind: 'Safety, Cost, and Public Gain' are the 3 most cited reasons. 1. Safety - If you think that a 'state' worker looking at your ID compared to a 'worker' looking at your ID is any different you are insane. The roads at 2am are just as dangerous in PA as any other state. 2. Cost - HAHAHAHA is my response to that. I commonly save about $4 per bottle of liquor every time I buy a bottle in NJ. PLUS there is MORE selection. 3. Public Gain - Well for this one, PLEASE tell me what I can GAIN by buying my wine and liquor in PA. Maybe I'm blind, but last time I checked, there is nothing in PA that is better here than in any other state.

PA sucks for alcohol.”

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16. Jake said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 11:45AM

“I think ridiculing the law nationally or even globally is the way to make change or to at least progress towards change. You can sign all the petitions you want but when so much tax revenue is at stake the law will never change. It is unfortunate that no PA politician has the cojones to challenge the status quo.”

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17. Elvis Costello Hartranft said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 12:04PM

“I would like to dedicate this next song to the three head mice who run the PA LCB: Patrick J. Stapleton, III,Thomas F. Goldsmith and Robert S. Marcus

Three blind mice. Three blind mice.
See how they run. See how they run.
They all ran after the farmer's wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,
Did you ever see such a sight in your life,
As three blind mice?”

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18. Gustavus said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 12:22PM

“"The state gets great bulk discounts": and where do they go? Most of the wines I like, if I can even find them in a state store, are 10-30% more expensive than they are in New York.”

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19. jesselun said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 12:25PM

“I think my favorite part is that you can't buy a 12-pack (of decent beer), but you can DRIVE THROUGH and get beer. And a 6-pack costs about the same as a case in most stores (or not enough of a discount to make it worth it).

So just to be clear, PA would rather have us drive through and get a case than just get a 6 and go home. Nice!”

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20. Nick said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 12:34PM

“When Prohibition was nationally repealed in 1933, and four days before the sale of alcohol became legal in Pennsylvania again, Pinchot called the Pennsylvania General Assembly into special session to debate regulations regarding the manufacture and sale of alcohol; this session led to the establishment of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and its system of state-run liquor stores, reflecting Pinchot's desire to "discourage the purchase of alcoholic beverages by making it as inconvenient and expensive as possible." form Wikipedia in case ya didn't know...”

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21. Anonymous said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 12:52PM

““"Many neighborhoods, including Fishtown... have no wine and spirits store at all." really? then the location on 3rd and girard must be a mirage.”

So, we're calling 3rd and Girard Fishtown now?”

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22. Anonymous said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 12:59PM

“Hipsters can't walk that far in their skinny girl jeans...,.........

““"Many neighborhoods, including Fishtown... have no wine and spirits store at all." really? then the location on 3rd and girard must be a mirage.”

So, we're calling 3rd and Girard Fishtown now?””

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23. brendancalling said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 01:09PM

“great piece. the whole "chairman's selction" thing is such utter hogwash. I was at the LCB website just yesterday (i wa ranting about the same, no idea you were doing an article on it), and none of the people on the LCB are actually qualified to make informed decisions about alcohol purchases. The chairman's selection STINKS because the chairman is probably less qualified to determine which wines are good than a drunk passed out in rittenhouse square.
the lcb is a waste of PA taxpayer's money: and they waste out money even further by having state troopers stake out liquor stores just across the state line, in an effort to force people to buy their shitty, overpriced selections.”

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24. Dave said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 01:29PM

“Whiney you are poorly informed moron.”

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25. Tom Theodosiades said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 02:19PM

“If the LCB wasn't a government entity, Philly's Federal Prosecutor would have a slam dunk RICO case.

About the protest idea, we can just take PATCO to Camden, buy a bottle, and regroup @ the Independence Mall. Add some news cameras, and poof, you got yourself a protest. There's no way the Cops or the State Police have even a small chance of rounding up a couple hundred liquor-fueled Irishmen.”

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26. Ed said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 02:58PM

“Dave...it is you who is the poorly informed moron. You obviously are a union member because only a union member could possibly side with the lazy, shiftless lot that belongs to unions. They are at the core of the destruction of the city and the rest of us need to band together and cut these freeloaders off. Unions are the last of the welfare recipients. Myself and 4 or 5 of my friends easily spend a few thousand dollars on wine a year and not a single bottle is bought in PA. The lost revenue along the states borders has to add up to tens of millions of dollar in lost tax revnue.”

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27. daytimedrinker said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 03:02PM

“Lew - I don't understand why your cause to end the PLCB hasn't worked yet. with enough patrons of bars and restaurants, workers and owners there should be enough signatures or whatever else is needed to get the wheels in motion
Could the State not enjoy more tax revenue if there were more stores?

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28. Bekah Buttons said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 03:41PM

“"state-store cold sore"
Hilar!”

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29. Hello Newman said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 04:27PM

“daytimedrinker, I think the problem with Lew' Bryson's cause is no one really takes the rantings of some alcoholic blogger seriously, unless they are also a "day time drinker". Lew' Bryon's background is seriously lacking as any kind of professional or political leader. Look at his blog, would you follow this guy into battle? Doubt it. Looks like something my 7 year old put together http://www.lewbryson.com/

This cause needs a real proven leader and responsible working professional. I nominate Jonathan Newman to come back and get his justice with the LCB by taking over this necessary cause.”

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30. Hello, hello Newman said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 04:46PM

“Newman's got a job, don't you read? He's in the booze business. http://www.newmanwineandspirits.com/ Schmuck.”

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31. Not the point said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 05:03PM

“That's not the point Hello Newman. Even if this Lew Bryson guy is some kind of baboon with a shitty website he is onto something. Sometimes it takes the town fool to point out the obvious to all the citizens.
The LCB must go.”

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32. Ted Winters said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 05:35PM

“Hello Newman, You really are an ahole. I know Lew Bryson well. Your 7 year old was probably sober when he built his website. I strongly doubt Lew was when he built www.lewbryson.com. Give Lew Bryson a break. Once he ends his "afternoon nap" I'm sure he will be on here telling you the same.

“daytimedrinker, I think the problem with Lew' Bryson's cause is no one really takes the rantings of some alcoholic blogger seriously, unless they are also a "day time drinker". Lew' Bryon's background is seriously lacking as any kind of professional or political leader. Look at his blog, would you follow this guy into battle? Doubt it. Looks like something my 7 year old put together http://www.lewbryson.com/”

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33. Anonymous said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 07:00PM

“So glad someone addressed this in print. Tom Cowell, you are my hero!”

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34. Anonymous said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 07:00PM

“So glad someone addressed this in print. Tom Cowell, you are my hero!”

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35. Country Gal said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 07:32PM

“As one who grew up in the midwest, I was shocked at the archaic way so many things are handled in Philadelphia when I moved here years ago. There may not be skyscrapers where I come from, but we can buy liquor at the grocery store.”

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36. LewBryson said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 08:53PM

“I will not be baited. It's not about me, or my blog. It's about fixing the way we sell and buy booze in this state. Stop being a dick and write your legislator; do something USEFUL.”

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37. andrea said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 09:49PM

“What an embarassment for PA. I'll enjoy the wine kiosks disaster - I hope it helps the state realize what a backwards system it's running here. I love the protest idea. I'd be there in a heartbeat.”

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38. Anonymous said... on Jan 13, 2010 at 10:43PM

“Everyone needs to call their state rep and state senator and advise them how stupid this system is. Go look at the distributor assn's website - they find beer to be such a threat to safety in grocery stores and gas stations. But its magically OK in distributorships.Why?”

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39. Anonymous said... on Jan 14, 2010 at 07:26AM

“I have a strong feeling the PA Tax Auditors will soon be all over Lew Bryson and Tom Cowell with his Young Rumblers looking for anything they can find. Of course it's not retribution. Give them hell guys, while you can.”

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40. HouseAndSenate said... on Jan 14, 2010 at 08:47AM

“That is quite an eloquent response Mr. Bryson. It will enlighten the government of PA to have such a fine orator visiting the hill. Like the scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, you playing the part of Spicoli, The LCB as Mr. Hand

Spicoli is stunned: "Hey bud, what's your problem?"
Mr. Hand moves within inches of Jeff's face and deadpans: "No problem at all. I think you know where the front office is"
It takes a moment for the words to work their way out of Jeff Spicoli's mouth: "You....DICK!!"

I'm nosh...hic hic..drunk.....

36. LewBryson said."hic, hic "
.. on Jan 13, 2010 at 08:53PM

“I will not be baited. It's not about me, or my blog. It's about fixing the way we sell and buy booze in this state. Stop being a dick and write your legislator; do something USEFUL.”

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41. Senate and House said... on Jan 14, 2010 at 09:29AM

“The Hill? It has nothing to do with DC. Harrisburg, right? It's very telling that Lew Bryson is willing to sign his name, and the stone-thowers are not. If he's not your first choice as champion of this issue, that's fine, but is tearing him down helping to abolish the PA LCB? Didn't think so. Keep the common goal in mind for five minutes. After the PA LCB is abolished, you can get back to the other stuff. And see some movies made after the 80s.”

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42. Ted said... on Jan 14, 2010 at 06:23PM

“The union issue is a political smokescreen. It is the huge donations from the wholesalers to the heads of the respective committees in Harrisburg. Don't be fooled that anyone in Harrisburg wouldn't sell out the 2,300 clerks if the donations poured in for opening up the system. There is enough graft to keep everyone happy with the current system. Nothing will change until the general population really raises a stink and follows through with PAC $$$. Every time I mention this issue to an elected official I hear: "no one other than wine snobs really cares." And then: "But what happens to all the revenue?" Somehow, they feel the state will lose revenue if ordinary businesses collect the taxes.

We are actually losing a lot of jobs with the current system. There would be many independent wine/spirits specialty stores opened. Retailers such as Costco, Trader Joes, Whole Foods all have great wine programs in other states. All of these retailers open elsewhere first.

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43. SMash said... on Jan 14, 2010 at 07:18PM

“I like the end. I can make this Logan Circle Yards IPA fountain happen. As soon as the PLCB is deregulated, you have my word it will happen.

Cheers,

Steve”

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44. LewBryson said... on Jan 15, 2010 at 12:05AM

“Funny, saying the guy who wants the PLCB abolished is a drunk. No one ever made THAT joke before...
What's really funny is that I have addressed a joint committee of the PA legislature, about the Liquor Code. Some people anonymously write scurrilous, petty trash; some of us go to Harrisburg and DO something. I urge anyone reading this: write your legislators and the Governor, encourage them to privatize booze sales in PA.”

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45. LewBryson said... on Jan 15, 2010 at 07:42AM

“Ted, I don't think the union issue is a smokescreen, but the PAC money may not be the real issue; it's the union jobs involved. No legislator really looks forward to eliminating 2300 union jobs; the political blowback on that would be intense.
On my worthless, allegedly baboon-written blog, I've made several proposals to soften that blow; these are, after all, citizens who took these jobs in good faith, and I have nothing against them, just the system that employs them. They could be offered preferential hiring for other State jobs; low/no interest loans to open their own liquor stores in a new private system; and preferential treatment on issuance of licenses for liquor stores.
Coupled to that, the State should make these licenses different from the current system: non-transferable, and with a substantial yearly fee. That way, the State makes more money on licensing, instead of creating a market for speculating in licenses. Lots of ways we can improve this system.”

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46. Dick Bryson said... on Jan 15, 2010 at 07:57AM

“Lew Bryson, quit writing, you are only making yourself sound even more like a drunken dick. Don't worry, you will get enough booze even with the PA LCB selling liquor. Go find a real cause to champion like the homeless or handicapped instead of riding your waaaahhhhhmbulance to Harrisburg to whine about your liquor jones.”

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47. The Brotherhood said... on Jan 15, 2010 at 08:34AM

“Brothers, Do not go to Lew Bryson's website. This whole thing is a ruse by him to get web traffic to his website. He is desperate to support his failing blog. He blogs to get free drinks for his over indulging. Cirrhosis will take care of Lew Bryson soon enough. ALL UNION MEMBERS MUST BOYCOTT ANY MAGAZINE OR PAPER THAT IS DUMB ENOUGH TO PAY LEW BRYSON TO WRITE ANYTHING. Write to the editors, tell your shop steward to organize a group letter.

This tired argument has been decided years ago when Governor Ridge tried to privatize. Quit wasting the tax payers money with this topic.

http://www.ranknfile-ue.org/uen_0897_d6.htm

 Privatization means unionbusting. The stores' assistant managers and clerks are represented by four locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW); .

 Privatization means the destruction of jobs at family-supporting wages. More than 4,000 workers would lose their jobs to privatization.”

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48. sam k said... on Jan 15, 2010 at 10:19AM

“It's pretty obvious which posters are here in their own self-interest, and Mr. Bryson is not one of them. As a bourbon drinker, I have seen the selection in PA go to hell in the last couple of years, while bourbon is exploding nationwide and around the world.

In PLCB-land, any product not strictly performing to their set formula is eliminated, and little or nothing new is introduced to fill the gap. I buy as much booze out of state as I can. Tax revenue is being lost BECAUSE of the PLCB!”

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49. Jay B., Philadelphia said... on Jan 15, 2010 at 11:39AM

“Visiting a state store seems to me to be what it must have been like to shop for similar goods in a 1950's Soviet industrial town. At least the hammer & sickle on the wall would have brightened the place up a bit. I'll continue to spend my booze (and gasoline) money in Jersey.”

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50. Ric said... on Jan 15, 2010 at 10:09PM

“@Brotherhood: I agree completely; the liquor industry is too unique to be left to free market whims (and wages). In fact, the same business model should be applied to gas stations too. Make them state controlled and unionized. I realize that the price of gas would go up by about 30 % or more, but we can solve that by making it illegal to gas up out of state!!! We can also control costs by only offering 85 and 93 octane gas, nothing in between. It'll work, trust me. They won't have a choice!!!!

As for that nasty Mr. Bryson, this is obviously more about the millions of dollars he's making promoting socialistic special interests, rather than what is in the public good. Shame on him.

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51. Anonymous said... on Jan 16, 2010 at 01:25AM

“Mr. Bryson has PA beer consumers on his side”

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52. Anonymous said... on Jan 16, 2010 at 10:07AM

“Strip away the taxes collected and your left with $80 Million. OK. Why are you stripping that away? Money collected is money collected. Figure out a way to pay for employee pensions if you want to get rid of the system. Figure out a way to replace half a billion dollars a year without raising my taxes and you can change it. A study was done on how long it would take to switch things over from state to private and it was years. So even if they changed it today, you would still be going to a state store for some time. Do you really think this is the most pressing issue this state should deal with? Come on people.”

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53. LewBryson said... on Jan 16, 2010 at 10:21AM

“#52; "Strip away the taxes collected" just means subtracting them from "contributions" of the PLCB. The taxes will still be collected under a private system, and we won't have to pay state employees to do it. We don't have to replace half a billion a year, just about $80 million. We'll get back a LOT of the tax dollars that are currently going over state lines to buy wine and spirits (you can't argue it's not happening), and there will be a lot more jobs (paying income taxes) if we open a reasonable number of stores (we're seriously under-served, with no apparent "social benefit"). There are also ways to run the licensing system that will bring in more money. And if we sold off the system, we could put the money in the bank and make almost $80 million a year on interest.
Is it the "most pressing issue this state should deal with?" No, but what is? This problem is already solved, the plan's in place; it just needs the guts to execute it. Bang! Shovel-ready. Let's go.”

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54. Anonymous said... on Jan 16, 2010 at 02:25PM

“Here is a suggestion....to start the LCB puts up for bid one license to open and sell liquor and wine per county. That entity is required to buy its booze from the State for one year. We slowly phase out the state store and then release the other license to another private buyer. It wouldn't be hard. This idea would also give people some time to adjust to the idea and give State store employees some time to line up something new. Some State store employees could actually pick up employment or take a package...just like every other company buyout in America. btw, I think Beer Distributors should be included in the mix to be able to (at the very least) sell wine and/or booze.
Everyone has an opinion, but let's give them ideas on how to "attempt to please" everyone involoved. Just sayin....”

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55. LewBryson said... on Jan 16, 2010 at 03:48PM

“#54: Definitely agree that beer distributors should be included in the mix; the artificial separation of beer from wine and spirits sales is something that's gotta go. But I think if you go too slowly, you won't get the maximum amount of money on license sales, and I definitely want to avoid the State being the wholesaler. Having the State Stores co-exist for a certain time isn't all bad...especially if taverns are allowed to choose who to buy from and suppliers are allowed to set their own markup to taverns (major reason why I don't want the State as wholesaler).
Mostly what we want to avoid is a closed door process on all this. We want consumers in on the process: there's more of us than there are bar/store owners. No casino-style deals. Maybe a limit on number of licenses owned by individuals and corporations; that works in Massachusetts. Ideas aplenty out there.

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56. Anonymous said... on Jan 17, 2010 at 01:12AM

“Yeah, I agree but I am thinking legislatively, nothing comes for free. Congress is going to want the Benjamins. I think it was Ridge a few years ago that wanted to let 'em go for 1 milion per license. The only problem I saw with his proposal is you could only own it for 7 or 10 years (can't remember) and then you'd have to give up the license. That part of it was absurd. I always think of Connecticut. We visit a place where in the same strip mall you can buy beer at the Grocery Store, but you can walk literally 20 feet and buy beer, wine and alcohol at a package store in the same complex. The two entities are able to co-exist because the package stores are able to sell beer, wine and liquor. Dems support the Unions and Republicans have moral obligations to support "the system"....and the stalemate continues. With a 10% unemployment rate, a war in Afganistan and one heck of a mess of a health care bill, unfortunately, I feel like this issue is on the backburner.”

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57. Anonymous said... on Jan 18, 2010 at 11:04AM

“And this rant will achieve what? None of this is anything new. Without grassroots legislation from the state's population centers (Philly and Pittsburgh), we'll continue to endure the status quo. Until then, lets start small.
How about stores where the wine refrigerator is actually cold, placement of wine chillers in stores that are near BYOBs, and equal distribution of variety in all stores.”

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58. Alexander D. Mitchell IV said... on Jan 18, 2010 at 01:41PM

“Yep, classic political argument going on up there: When you can't come up with an actual fact-based argument against a sound, fact-based argument in a debate, hurl names at the opponent. Like "fat drunk." Or "hatemongering Nazi" or "big, fat idiot" or "racist" or "anyone can drive a truck."
There is a liquor store in Maryland that once told me, off the record, that a full sixty per cent of their annual revenue could be attributed to what they called "the Pennsylvania Navy": People from Pennsylvania who stopped to stock up on Friday evenings as they drove their trailered boats down to the Chesapeake Bay (or stopped by en route to their docked boats), then stopped by again Sunday evening to stock up for the house and friends. It was not simply a pricing or convenience matter; the store in question had a FAR wider selection of good beer, wine, and spirits than even the best Pa. Wine & Spirits Shoppe or Pa. distributor I've ever visited. Imagine if these sales were in Pa.!”

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59. LewBryson said... on Jan 19, 2010 at 12:45AM

“#56; Auction the licenses for the first go-round, and make them non-transferable. People can keep them as long as they keep paying the fee every year, and set the fee at something like $10,000. No speculation, and the state makes the money.
As for the "priorities," look at it this way. Privatization will increase jobs (there'll be more stores), revenues will increase as more sales stay in-state (helping pay for the state's side of the healthcare bill), and the war in Afghanistan is not Pennsylvania's problem.”

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60. Kosmicki said... on Jan 19, 2010 at 02:43PM

“Let's just say that privatization is not going to happen. Why can't the state run the stores in a way that will provide convenient service with better hours, more locations, and a wider selection? I just can't understand why they don't want to make more money, provide more jobs, and avoid embarrassment.”

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61. LewBryson said... on Jan 19, 2010 at 07:20PM

“Great attitude. Privatization CAN happen, it's happened other places (Iowa, West Virginia). And the state doesn't open more stores because they can't manage what they've got now. They put the same booze in every store, it's like a Soviet department store chain: "Is viskey. You vant? Is gin. You vant?" don't make it bearable, make it right!”

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62. matt said... on Jan 20, 2010 at 03:43PM

“Business owners do it better than Government always have and always will. The only problem I see is potential monopolies if too many licenses are issued. They'll have to be careful. They will have to have strict laws to enforce pricing. In other words, you have a guy who is buying serious volume, the booze and wine companies give a break...then it begins.”

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63. Philly Grad Student said... on Jan 21, 2010 at 08:47AM

“I moved here for school and didn't check out the liquor laws prior. Needless to say, I will be moving from PA as soon as I get my degree. I can't stand the stupidity that this law represents.”

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64. Anonymous said... on Jan 23, 2010 at 10:40AM

“One thing not mentioned in this article is the fact that the successful, growing PA wineries in the state are not only regulated by the PLCB, but they are also their direct competition...what other industry is regulated by their competitor? Next time your in a PENNSYLVANIA State Store, look to see how much they promote PA wines...and then look how other states do it...”

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65. Anonymous said... on Jan 27, 2010 at 11:49AM

“Great article, Kudos to Tom Cowell. Too bad the pols won't make a move to abolish the LCB 'cause they're all worried about the fallout from the loss of union jobs! IMHO, it's a lame argument anyway; why can't all the clerks just work for the private liquor stores that replace the LCB??

The wine selections in PA absolutely stink!!”

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66. Anonymous said... on Jan 27, 2010 at 11:50AM

“Great article, Kudos to Tom Cowell. Too bad the pols won't make a move to abolish the LCB 'cause they're all worried about the fallout from the loss of union jobs! IMHO, it's a lame argument anyway; why can't all the clerks just work for the private liquor stores that replace the LCB??

The wine selections in PA absolutely stink!!”

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67. Anonymous said... on Feb 2, 2010 at 01:13PM

“I got news for you. 3rd and Girard is Northern Liberties not Fishtown and 4300 Fkd Av. is not Bridesburg, numbskulls. The point of the article is the LCB is not giving the people of this state the service they deserve so put it in private hands!”

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68. amesadamson said... on Mar 8, 2010 at 03:12PM

“The founder of the PLCB, PA Governor Gifford Pinchot, in 1933 stated that the purpose of the Board was to "discourage the purchase of alcoholic beverages by making it as inconvenient and expensive as possible." They do that job VERY well.”

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69. amesadamson said... on Mar 8, 2010 at 03:23PM

“END the PLCB by writing your state representative. http://www.congress.org/

Here's what I wrote to Rep. Fattah:
Please submit a bill to end the PLCB monopoly over the sale of wine and
liquor. It is a ridiculous bureaucracy. I guarantee if these stores
were abolished the sales tax from independent liquor stores sales would
far surpass any income/profit generated from this antiquated and
inconvenient system of Wine & Spirits stores.

Wine and liquor sales don't encourage alcoholism. It is going to happen
whether the state or private sellers control it.

The stores as operated are poorly managed, limited in selection and value,
and the employees are usually surly. The PADOT offices are a dream to
visit. Why is it the Wine & Spirits stores are filled with irritable
people?

State run liquor stores are only in the most backwards of states. Is
Pennsylvania a backward state? I don't think so.”

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70. ROLLANDO said... on Jul 4, 2010 at 04:15PM

“I agree the rules, regulations and laws should be updated to match the current date. Perhaps grocery stores should be allowed to start selling booze in their stores. If they are given that right or freedom, then I think it only be fair to have mom and pop liqoure stores too. At the same time the State should continue with state run liquore stores like they have now. With competition working against each other in a way can be vey beneficial to everyone. As for minors getting booze, it does not mater, they can and will and already have done so by driving to any of the border states, either New York, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia, Delaware or New Jersey. The State Police are going to have to be more aggressive against wayward teenagers bringing booze over state lines.”

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71. Anonymous said... on Jul 9, 2010 at 09:06AM

“I live in Stroudsburg and we are finally getting beer in grocery stores. The prices are outrageous for anything other than 40 oz bottles of malt liquor. Thanks PA.”

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72. Anonymous said... on Jul 18, 2010 at 10:42AM

“Lew, you are a tool and a drunk! Get a life .”

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73. Algae said... on Nov 13, 2010 at 09:28PM

“Until the government recognizes the fact that taxes from spirit sales or otherwise is NOT their money, their personal slush fund, their "perk" payoff and changes things around to support the WILL OF THE PEOPLE, their constituents, you will see just this sort of thing. Usually masked as "Nanny State - It's good for you". It bothers me that on one hand PA was known as one of the cradles of Independence only to have degenerated to this level of interference in ones personal LIBERTIES! Let Freedom Ring! Get rid of the politicians and "beerocrats" who support the pathetic PA liquor laws.”

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74. Chris Chambers said... on Aug 22, 2011 at 12:04PM

“It is a disgrace that the little old outdated values of PA like selling liquor in the grocery store. Like every place I have lived PA takes the stupidity cake right in the face. You have a long way to go....privitazation will never happen.
Chris”

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75. Anonymous said... on Jan 7, 2012 at 08:49AM

“Good article. The real argument against the LCB is that the PA state government should not be involved in a legitimate business enterprise. It is being run for-profit. Don't believe me? Check the prices online of any wine or spirit. It's the same full retail price in every market in the country with few exceptions. Why stop with government controlled liquor sales. Why not have the state allow only the safest cars to be sold "for the protection of its citizens." Or foodstuffs, or any product you can name. And here is the salt in the wound - after charging full price for the beverage, they tax it again.

Don't stop with just crossing the bridge to buy wine in protest. Stop your cars at the toll booths, get out, and surrender to the authorities, in this case the Port Authorities (another joke). But you will tie up the bridges and show the state we can outdo them when it comes to prohibiting commerce!!!”

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76. Anonymous said... on Jul 9, 2012 at 06:54PM

“yeah, i just moved to PA and it already sucks. used to going to kroger, 7/11, or even Walmart in VA and picking up a 12 or 6 pack with no hassle- or individual cans/pints/40's. There were about 20 liquor stores within 20 mile radius, as opposed to the 1 here. it makes no damn sense. the only size you can buy around here is bulk- and they think theyre cutting down alcoholism? have to buy a 24 pack of beer just to have beer, or a 750 mL of liquor just to have tha. when i want to make bourbon meatballs, i'll have to blow $20 for a 750mL as opposed to a 200 or 37mL bottle when i only need 1/2 cup. you have breweries here? why? you're not giving people what they want and they have to pay greatly for what they don't want- lets see a little more freedom of choice here "comrades." thank god walmart sells yeast, frozen juice concentrate, &yeast. 1 gallon of wine for $4, problem solved...and you didnt have to deal w/the hassle of buying it from the place with the worst alcohol laws ever”

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77. Wizard said... on May 2, 2013 at 07:51PM

“I live in SW Pa and just travel to the surrounding states to get a good deal on the liquor. Also my wife's sister lives in California and when I want some good California wine, we just call and she sends a package through UPS or FedEx. Piss on the PLCB.”

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78. Anonymous said... on Dec 5, 2014 at 09:06PM

“This is the most Fuc$%& up liquor law I have ever seen. If I would have known about this bs PA liquor law. I would have never moved up here, even for the current lucrative salary job which as soon as I am done, I am moving back to chicago. So inconvenient and totally rip off which almost reminds me of being portal back into some almost weird like boardwalk prohibitions gangster era over priced liquor.”

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