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In the Post-Gazette series "Monopoly Money: The control of wine and spirits in Pennsylvania," PG reporter Steve Twedt describes the workings of the state Liquor Control Board, one of the tightest, most restrictive liquor control systems in America.
Proponents say the system offers good prices, generates tax revenue and helps control underage drinking. Critics say the LCB is an arcane relic that imposes exorbitant taxes and burdensome rules.
We asked readers what they thought of Pennsylvania's state store system. Below is a selection of their reponses.
To the Editors:
Your excellent series of articles on the LCB highlight just how perverse the system is in Pennsylvania. I grew up in The 'burgh and remember trailing my parents once into the State store. Even at the age of 10, I found the whole experience tawdry as a speakeasy and about as inspiring as a Moscow grocery store under the Communists: the clerk would ask for your order, then go into the back and get the wines while you waited. No browsing; just THE LIST. Thank God my parents later introduced me to the pleasures of wine and showed me how wonderful this and other alcoholic beverages can be, IN MODERATION.
I understand some of the arguments in favor of keeping the State-store system. Certainly, underage drinking is not a good thing. But even MADD, a notoriously active force in Federal and State politics throughout the Nation, cannot muster enough energy to oppose the bill currently in the PA State House to privatize the PA system.
Here in Connecticut, when underage drinking was finally taken seriously, the State Liquor Commission sent out its agents to sting and fine stores that did not ask for IDs. When retailers get together at trade shows here, talk almost always comes around to the fines, and more importantly the stigma and lost revenue from being shut down for a few days. Many view them as unfair, because a single clerk who is tired or not paying attention or simply having a bad day, could cost them dearly if a sting operation comes through town. On the other hand, my experience is that retailers respect the system and take it extremely seriously. Checking IDs is drummed into clerks' heads, and many stores make it a fire-able offence to be caught not asking for an ID. Some stores will even not sell to a group of persons who come into a store if the entire group cannot produce IDs. The message gets around quickly at high schools, and it is: "we are not interested in your business if you are under-aged."
The argument that deaths will increase is valid. Certainly, even a single life is worth doing as much as possible to save. In your article, it is stated that in PA, 50 under-aged persons die every year due to drunken driving, and that this number would increase 30% if the system were privatized. That means 15 extra lives. We don't like to put a number on lives, and yet, in reality, our statisticians and even our politicians and journalists, to name but a few, do it all the time. But without even getting into the lives vs. money argument, can we not agree with the GHSA spokesman who states that "liquor control is one of a host of things that could be done?"
Let's start with education. The tag line "in moderation" is applied by every manufacturer of alcoholic beverages in the United States, but it is a national joke. As a society, we do very little to educate our children on the pleasures, social interactions, and generally good things that come from moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages. Then we unleash them on the world when they turn 21 (realistically, it's 16, because most kids have figured out a way to get liquor by that age if they want it, whatever the State may do about ID checks) and watch with white fear as we hand them the car keys on a Friday night. Parents then stay at home and pace the living room floor or kneel down and pray that their kid will come home safely, all the time held a veritable hostage by a clear, brown, red, white, or sudsy yellowish liquid. Then they go through another week, tortured every day by the thought that the scenario will repeat the next weekend. But instead of doing something about it, they just hand over the car keys again the next weekend. Perhaps I am being a bit facile; I certainly do not mean to impugn the stress and responsibility that the vast majority of parents feel in this situation. Still, the situation where a parent and child cannot discuss alcohol in a context free of trust and children's freedom issues, should be counted as a risk factor at least as important as any other in the national debate on alcohol.
Instead, parents could sit their kids down around the same time as they tell them about the birds and the bees, and show them a bottle of alcohol, of wine, of beer. Tell them that the same quantity of these drinks is NOT the same in its effects, and show them how much more powerful hard liquor is. Pour out a few drops for them to taste and have them see for themselves how bitter beer is, how strong alcohol is, and how wine tastes. Give them some wine as they grow older and can appreciate it. Again - a few drops at dinner or on a special occasion.
Then watch the underaged drunken-driving death statistics fall in an appreciable manner.
-- Francois Steichen, Wine Consultant and Salesman, Old Greenwich, CT
The one thing the individuals making decisions on behalf of the governments of Pennsylvania, Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh all fail to realize is that they are operating in a free market of sorts: they are competing with other geographic areas for population. The population is highly mobile these days and those governments' oppressive policies, of which the PA LCB is emblematic, simply create an incentive for people to leave the area - note where I am writing this from. I am a "young professional" in his late 20s, probably the kind of demographic that area should be working to keep around. Until two years ago I tried to make Pittsburgh work, but I left for the simple reason that the local and state government unwittingly begged me to by implementing the kind of frustrating policies that they seem to love: the PA LCB, the high parking taxes downtown, the ridiculous income tax people pay to live inside city limits, the high property taxes in Allegheny County, even travelling on the Pennsylvania Turnpike was an outrageously frustrating experience. Until things change I have no plans to return.
The problem snowballs because the population decreases and tax revenue decreases as a result, and then the overly simplistic minds running things raise taxes even more to compensate. They are just making the problem worse. I fear for the region. I would hate to see Pittsburgh become the next Detroit, because it is innately a wonderful place, ruined by misguided bureaucrats. -- Alan Fry, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
I feel the liquor control system is so out of date as to be called an antique!
Prices are unnecessarily high due to all the taxes.
Wines should be allowed to be sent directly to one's home address. From all states - not just PA.
The up-dated stores are an overall improvement. But attitude toward the public needs up-dating also. -- E. Donovan Pittsburgh 15236
Let's face it: Pennsylvania's State Store System isn't about protection--it's about collecting sales taxes. Perhaps the solution is to allow both in-state and out-of-state wineries to bypass the System if they provide proof to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board that their websites assess Pennsylvania sales tax on wine purchases shipped to/from Pennsylvania. -- Jeff Sassic, Point Breeze
The LCB is a terrible organization that intrudes on many of our rights. If this forum is truly a sample of PA's drinking population, I think that it just goes to show how much our local representatives DON'T listen to what the citizens of this state actually want. Otherwise, the LCB would have been removed long, long ago. I suggest giving the LCB and Dan Onorato their own little island where they can buy beer from a single liquor store and Dan can tax it all he wants.
-- Justin, Pittsburgh.
The PA system of state controlled liquor sales is just one of the reasons I want to move away from the place I was born and raised. --
Carrie A. Merriman, Sewickley, PA
The PLCB is a horrendous system for the consumer in Pennsylvania. I can still vividly remember wandering through the aisles of the grocery store in bafflement and increasing desperation when searching for a six-pack when I first moved here.
The limited choice of products available at the PLCB is a source of
constant frustration to me: go to the Waterworks PLCB store, or the East Side PLCB store, or a store in rural Center County and it is exactly the same limited choice of brands of whisky, for example, available. What can I do if my favourite brand, popular everywhere else, isn't carried by the PLCB? Why are only a certain small number of brands available? Do the distilleries pay the State (or the politicians themselves) for the right to have their brands carried by the PLCB?
I despise having to visit three different shops to buy a bottle of whisky, some lagers, and some groceries. I've been in Pennsylvania for 10+ years and I still curse profanities of frustration every time I'm driving between the PLCB and the beer distributor.
I find it hard to justify visiting a restaurant/bar to pay for a whisky that the owner paid the same amount that I did for my bottle at home, because there is a total monopoly of whisky sales in Pennsylvania. In a bar/restaurant, I'll have to pay $6-$7 for a measure of whisky from a bottle that costs $37 at the PLCB and contains about 28 measures. Or I could just stay at home and effectively pay $1.32 for the same measure of whisky. Understandably, restaurants and bars have to make a living, but shouldn't they be able to negogiate down prices with the brewery/distillery agents themselves?
In 2008, what is the logic behind the PLCB? To "protect" the residents of the state from themselves? Or can the State simply not afford to lose what must be a huge source of income, by freeing up liquor sales to the open market?
I fear natives remain somewhat blinkered, but to "outsiders" it is
crystal clear: Pennsylvania is in a state of rapid decay. Something must be done to arrest the decline and population emigration: liberalizing the alcohol regulations would be a small step in the right direction. It would at least indicate to the residents that the buffoons in Harrisburg are trying to catch up with the rest of the US (you can buy booze in the grocery store in Utah! Utah!). -- Danny McGrain, Aspinwall, Pennsyltucky
In all of the comments listed below I could not find a single one favoring the state led PLCB system so I offer to break the pattern. As possibly the single largest wine buying entity in the world you can occasionally find a bottle of wine for less in Pennsylvania than you can in other states. That's because PA can negotiate volume discount terms that independent buyers for Mom and Pop stores can't touch. So even after taxing the life out of the grapes the price is sometimes lower than you can expect to pay elsewhere.
The fact that we still need to collect a tax for the first Johnstown flood says it all. The fact that the tax is collected where you can't see it is typical. We are all familiar with the sales tax we pay on top of the price of beer, wine and spirits. What we don't know about are the numerous other taxes collected to establish the state store shelf price.
Though it does make huge amounts of money for the state the PLCB system is archaic and most would declare broken. The fact that it perpetuates absurdity can be attributed to the cowardice of the political machines that control the system. Be it Republican or Democrat, political promises cost the taxpayers not the politicians. Think before you vote! -- Scott McAliley, Philadelphia PA
The LCB is a relic, and it is past time to go, and the oppressive Johnstown tax must go with it. It was hard to read the story today on the winery Presque Isle without wondering if our legislature is simply insane. I feel very sorry for those people working hard at that winery watching their future turned into a political football for no reason.
We know what the truth is--and it doesn't concern taxes and underage drinking. These are phony arguments used as red herrings, as has been proven many times. Privatization doesn't happen because our weak-willed, incompetent legislators are in the pockets of the unions. It is simply ridiculous to suggest that the State should be in the business of selling alcohol. It is even more ridiculous to suggest that they are protecting us by stopping us from ordering some nice Cabernets from California. Don't they have anything better to do?
The American way is to allow free competition, not to grant monopolies. As a result of the Pennsylvania's system, freedom to compete is non-existent, and the state controls the means of sales. Is Communism really what you want to support? Is this the American way?
Ultimately, there is but one answer--find out what your legislator's position on privatization is. If he or she does not support it, contribute to someone who does. -- Mark Squires, Philadelphia
If you set aside all the comments about price and selection and convenience, first and foremost, government does not have any business running a business. Monopolies are illegal, and yet we have this government operated monopoly in our state.
In addition to turning the business of wine and spirits over to private industry where it belongs, it's time to overhaul the way we have to buy beer as well.
And while we're at it, let's cut the size of our bloated, ineffectual state legislature in half. That's at the source of most of what ails Pennsylvania. -- Keith Wilson, Pittsburgh, PA
I used to travel over much of the United States as a salesman and discovered that I could purchase wine, beer and alcohol in most supermarkets and other stores. What a pleasure it was to be able to go into a store and see such a wide and varied selection of wine. And the prices, usually they were as much as one half of the price for the same wine in Pennsylvania. What a rip off the government in Pennsylvania is to the people living there, limited choice, limited days to make purchases and higher prices. And now they want to add 18% more in taxes to have in state wine delivered to the UGH state store in my area and then have to pay an extra fee to have it delivered to my home. Way to go. -- Kerry L Roberts, Belle Vernon, Pa
The liquor laws in Pa. are archaic, especially the state store system. For example, when I work in Indiana or Illinois, I'm able to buy a small jug of wine in the store or a private owned liquor store for about 1/2 of what I pay in Pa. I can buy a 12 pack of Miller Lite for around $6.00. In Pa. if you want to buy just a six pack, you have to go in a bar and pay around $7.00. West Virginia and Ohio are very similar in price structure to the previous mentioned states.
Also, I get tired and embarrassed hearing non-residents complain about how hard it is to buy and find these items in Pa. and how expensive it is compared to where they are from. -- Dave Atchison, Pittsburgh
Pennsylvania is a relatively small state, almost any point within the state is within two hours of the border. It would be easy for consumers to break the state's monopoly if they really wanted to. When I lived in New Castle, we never went to the State Liquor Store. We went to Boardman, Ohio.
If everyone in the state stopped purchasing from the LCB, instead hopping the border, and stopped purchasing alcoholic beverages in the state's restaurants, the monopoly would crumble. You're in a much better position to do this than someone in, say, Utah with its similarly stupid liquor laws. -- James Lawrence, Houston, Texas
Everyone seems eager to do away with the current archaic system, and I don't disagree....but, playing Devil's Advocate for a moment....perhaps there should be an audit to determine where the state money from these stores actually goes, before any such change is made. I say this because, do away with the state stores, then costs for some state programs would either have to be A) raised a different way or B) cut, or the programs abandoned. There may be important, more sweeping trade-offs involved which would be even less palatable than an extra couple bucks for a bottle of Pinot...I'm not sure I'd rather trade the convenience of buying booze at the Giant Eagle for a tax on food and clothing, increased income taxes, or the loss of some assistance program that a poor person, an elderly person, a Veteran or a child desperately needs. A change deserves to be examined, and possibly implemented, but only after a majority of the public is aware of and in agreement with the wider implications of such a change. -- Heidi McDonald, Edgewood
News Flash for the General Assembly -- Prohibition ended in 1933! I'm a Pennsylvania resident currently stationed outside of the Commonwealth. Every time I return to PA, I'm appalled at having to deal with some of the most arcane liquor laws and system in the nation. It's long overdue for the legislators to put an end to the political cronyism and stop protecting the state store's jobs program. Stop the fear-mongering and spreading the propaganda that only the state can effectively prevent minors from purchasing liquor and wine as a reason to spend tax dollars to maintain the antiquated the state store system. Privatize the state stores and establish an effective oversight process to monitor the sale of alcohol along with stiff penalties for merchants who sale alcohol to minors. Give consumers the freedom and choices to purchase a wide selection of liquor and wines at prices based on competition. There's plenty of real legislative work that's needed with health care, education, the public transportation system and roads, and taxes. The General Assembly needs to get with the times and move Pennsylvania forward to the 21st Century. -- John Migyanko, Goodyear, AZ
First things first. PA needs to catch up with the rest of the country in regard to smoking ...AND then find a way to allow adults to buy libations where they please. I can't believe PA can't go smoke-free and no one seems to care. Most of the country, and Europe for that matter, have banned smoking in public restaurants and establishments. I moved from Pittsburgh for more job opportunity and to be around younger people. I thought when I got older and saved a bunch of money I would return to the Burgh someday. But now that I see what it's like not having to deal with 2nd hand smoke AND I'm able to buy a nice bottle of wine from a local wine shop, I never want to return. Hey, the property value may be high in Los Angeles, but it is well worth the cost. Good luck! -- Mathew Watt, Los Angeles, CA
I feel that the state should not be in the liquor sale business. They are willing to sell to make money, but the police in this area target all of the private clubs and bars to arrest the patrons when they leave. Please don't get me wrong I do not approve of drinking and driving. These state stores are a conflict of interest.
I would like to see PA sell these to private concerns as in other states to sell liquor. I think beer and wine should be available in the grocery stores.
Thank you -- Maribeth Bajorek, Franklin, PA
I don't recall any public pols where the results have been so overwhelmingly on one side of the issue. But so what? Just like the public's overwhelming distrust / dislike of the legislature, nothing will be done. There is no ballot initiative system in PA (like we have in California) where alternatives to legislative action / inaction can be presented to the voters. Wonder why that is? The good ole boy politicos have the citizen's of PA in their total control. Who's going to come forward and change things? -- Paul Valovich, Ridgecrest, CA -- Charleroi, Roscoe, PA
Pittsburgh needs help braking away from one-party rule, a step in the right direction would be to privatize the state store system. -- Pat Leddy, Pittsburgh
It is stupid and antiquated and not of any benefit to the citizens of Pennsylvania.
The premise that it helps curb underage drinking is not real........instead of a 6 pack the kids have someone get them a case. As someone who has shopped in grocery stores in other states where beer and wine are available I have not witnessed kids hanging around the beer and wine aisle.
The claim that there are less drunks driving on the highways in Pennsylvania as a result of the system is a fairy tale.
Prices are not competitive when it comes to beer and wine, nor is selection on par with what is available in neighboring states. The state stores and beer distributors are not convenient.
The current system is a lot of things, but none of those things benefit the citizens of Pennsylvania. -- Jan Henson, Freedom, Pa
I seem to have the same views as most current or former Pennsylvania residents, LCB is a joke. Having lived out of Western PA for close to 6 years, I have seen firsthand that the system as it is, is a joke. That is not to say that it didn't serve a descent purpose back in the 30's, yet times DO change and it is ashame the state government can't see that. While living in Florida, and now Wilmington NC, I have experienced certain freedoms that current Pennsylvanians can't. As well, I garner laughs and disbelieve when I explain to a non-PA resident how you have to buy certain beverages at certain stores at certain hours on certain days. I believe, as it seems many others do, that the PA state government shouldn't have this much control in this aspect of a business. If only I had a seat in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Government... -- Eric Durbiano, Greensburg, PA
It is a great system , if you enjoy being controlled by the state government. It tells you when, where and at what price (which is very much higher than in other states) you can buy alcohol. This $108 million in salaries, which I am sure is somehow connected to the price of alcohol, at least keeps these 3600 employees of the welfare system. Way to go Pennsylvania - stay in the dark ages! -- John Kish - Pittsburgh
As a transplant from Pittsburgh I have always been glad to escape to other states and see the freedom in buying wines and liquor. To stand in line and order items instead of being able to browse and make one's own selection is so ridiculous and repressive. Prices are way better outside the Commonwealth. Pennsylvania needs to let go of the horrible control and sell like other states. It's one thing that keeps me from returning to PA plus all the high taxes. -- Joan Keil, St. Petersburg, FL
LEAVING PITTSBURGH 20 YEARS AGO, MOVING TO HOLLYWOOD FL, I HAVE FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE, AS A BAR OWNER IN PITTSBURGHS OVERBROOK . WE IN FLORDIA HAVE THE GOOD FORTUNE TO PURCHASE BEER, WINE IN OUR SUPERMARKETS, GAS STATIONS, AND CONVIENCE STORES. CRIME BECAUSE OF THIS IS NOT RAMPANT, NOR ARE DUI'S.
ITS A MATTER OF LAW ENFORCEMENT. ALL MERCHANTS GET TO SHARE IN THESE SALES. THEY ARE AVAILABLE SEVEN DAYS A WEEK, REGULATED HOURS BY CITY OR COUNTY. PENNSYLVANIA WOULD BE WISE TO ENACT THE SALE OF BEER AND WINE IN THE SAME MANNER. -- AL KAULAKIS, HOLLYWOOD FL.
I'm 23 years old and a life-long native of western PA. I love where I live and enjoy the rich history and heritage of the Burgh. However, isn't this the same place that started the Whiskey Rebellion? Are our "leaders" not that read-up on their local history? The PLCB is a crime. Where else in this country do you see state regulated alcohol to this extent? I was recently in Michigan. I bought 3 bottles of moderately "good" wine. Cost me $18. My husband bought a case of Miller Light - $13. And where did we buy these items? Wal-Mart. As for the poster that stated the liquor and wine stores in other sates are "tawdry-looking", who cares what the store looks like? The booze tastes the same doesn't it? Personally, I'd rather save a few bucks than worry if the carpet matches the shelves. But that's just me. I'm a middle class citizen who enjoys the occasional drink and I'm none too worried where I'm getting it, just how much I paid.
And I don't buy the excuse that regulating the alcohol sold in PA curbs underage drinking. From 2003-2004, the percentage of Pennsylvania underagers who said they have drank alcohol was 30.77. That is smack-dab in the middle of all other 49 states polled. So it hasn't really helped much has it? As for our neighbor states? Ohio and West Virginia actually reported LOWER percentages of underage drinking than Pennsylvania.
It is not the government's job to regulate our legal right to purchase and drink alcohol. Get rid of the state-regulated liquor stores, allow private grocery and convenience stores to profit, forget the tax and watch how much our local economy jumps. Privatization works for so many other states. What does PA really have to show for their sin taxes? Our roads are some of the most unkempt, unsafe roads in America, our public transportation is in shambles, and young people are itching and scratching to leave Pittsburgh, becoming yet another displaced story or statistic. Our PA legislature is a sin. And we have no one to blame but ourselves at the moment. We put them in these positions of power and continue to do so. Funny how we believe the PLCB is a huge scam, yet we keep these heathens *ahem* ... Rendell ... in office. I won't fault myself, though. I voted for Lynn Swann ... someone who probably understood the mantra, "A football town with drinking problem." -- Jennifer Borne, Finleyville, PA
"The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board was created in November, 1933,..."
PLCB is a bi-partisan political patronage bureaucracy whose pretense for existence is the control of wine and spirits. The fact that it may seem archaic, and may in fact operate in an otherwise archaic manner in the 21st century has little relevance. It's kind of like cabooses on trains -- served a purpose at one time until the purpose disappeared; but the cabooses didn't for a long, long time. Never mind economical efficiency, it is all about power and influence. Certainly there are better, more economical ways to achieve what PLCB does, but what fun is that? So the consumer, the business owner and the taxpayer pay greatly for this bureaucracy--look at all the benefits! Bureaucracies don't willingly change, shrink or die -- I wonder why? -- John Hunicutt, Enon, Ohio
What else do you expect from a state that sets the price for milk and cigarettes? How dare we suggest that our state government do what is best for its' citizens!!! After all if there were no PLCB stores and CEO Joe Conti, who would be telling us how lucky we are to have them? Below I have listed all of the other wonderful things that our ever so diligent state government does for us:
-- Jay Mangold, Fox Chapel, PA
The reason why the state will continue to run the liquor stores in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is simple: Union jobs! -- Leslie McIntire, Pittsburgh
It is frustrating to know -- since I have lived in several other states -- how expensive and difficult it is to have access to alcohol in this state. Further, the fact that I cannot legally "import" cheaper or different alcohol from other states is maddening. Sometimes I would just love to buy a six pack -- why do I have to pay bar prices to do so? The idea that by limiting me to buying an entire case of beer somehow "promotes responsible drinking" is hogwash. The control over the wine is a tragedy since the selection is very limited. Go to NY or OH and rejoice in the selection and the prices. I thought that I read an argument by the LCB that if they let just anyone sell liquor, it would negatively impact the ability of the state to collect its ~$500million/year in revenues to be used for other purposes -- hogwash. -- Catherine Stephens, Pittsburgh
It is my opinion that the Pennsylvania State Liquor Stores are just another rip-off. There is no competition so this allows the state to set prices to suit themselves thereby gouging the public. Pennsylvania's liquor and wine prices must be the highest in the nation. Think about it, they add a liquor tax to the price of a bottle and then charge a sales tax on top of that. Now they want to increase the sales tax. What else have our dear politicians increased? Their own pay, pensions and perks, that's what. It's time we sell the State Liquor Stores and clean up Harrisburg. -- Al Hessler, South Park
I have been reading with interest the reaction of your readers to the question, "What do you think of Pennsylvania's state store system?"
Hmmm. Revolution, anyone? We did it when they taxed our tea. This is worse. What business does the government have in selling ANY commodity? Budding legislators take note. It seems eliminating the PLCB would certainly be a winning platform. -- Mary Paterniti, N. Fayette
I moved here from Kentucky, and Virginia before that. I find the state store system would be fine if it stuck just to spirits. Wine is a frequent accompaniment to meals for many, and should be available the same places one buys food, like most states.
The beer laws are also aggravating.
BUT, having written the above, the current beer laws are probably why no other state has the number of mom-and-pop taverns that Pennsylvania (including ones with a greater selection of beer than anywhere in the US), and is relatively less polluted by generic chains like TGI Fridays and Applebee's - which never offer such a selection. I suspect that if beer were available in every convenience store, nearly all of these small taverns would be out of business.
So, people should be careful what they wish for. As a newcomer, one of the aggravating things about western Pennsylvanians is their desire to turn the state, and Pittsburgh in particular into just another piece of chain-and mall-covered real-estate. This is exactly what I moved to Pittsburgh to get away from. -- Paul Donahue, Brentwood
Al Capone would be proud of Pennsylvania's backward thinking....He would have made a bundle here bringing in cheaper booze from out of state -- BOB WURZER, PALM HARBOR, FL
The LCB is another example of how Pennsylvania is a nanny state. You would wander how the human race evolved to this point without all the Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and other Boneheaded Bureaucrats who are Turning Pennsylvania into a State of mindless adults who are treated like children by the plethora of state agencies that regulate every move you make. -- Anthony Kuhar, Cleveland, OH
Dear Post Gazette
The LCB Stores should be disbanded, and beer and wine should be sold in grocery stores like the rest of the nation. -- Rex Mackey, Grove City
I believe that the current system we have is archaic and needs to be changed. Pennsylvania has too much government now and is so top heavy that it cannot stand on its own. We need to divest and dissolve some of the completely outdated and unnecessary departments. We voted for a referendum to make our government smaller and nothing has been done. At least we need to try to get rid of the wasteful departments that do not really make any money and run under a deficit. Corporate America would not stand for businesses that continue to run in the red why does government feel that it is okay to run something in the red year after year? We, the taxpayers, need to show that we are tired of supporting systems that do not profit in any manner. Get rid of the state stores run by the government and open it up to privatization and competition. Make beer and wine available at the local grocery store. For once Pennsylvania government needs to think of making something good for the people instead of itself. -- Rhonda L Berlin, Harrison City, PA
I grew up in Pittsburgh, but I've lived in Nevada for nearly two decades, where you can purchase alcohol 24 / 7, or go to bars and casinos to drink at anytime of any day. The negative side of this situation will always be negative - you will have people who will drink as much as they want, or can, everyday. But it's no different in my former hometown - people who want to drink all the time will find a way to do it. They just buy more when they go to the beer distributor or liqour store - to 'stock up' to make sure that they don't run out.
The LCB's restrictive system actually encourages alcohol abuse by pushing the citizens to stock up on booze to make sure that they don't run out. The lack of restriction in Nevada lets you, as a US citizen, set your terms as to what you want to do. If I want a beer, I go and have a beer. I don't have to think about what time it is, or even what day it is.
I don't see the 'hurry up' in the bars to make sure that you get a few in before last call, or the 2AM rush out of bars to try to find a cab. And when you can't find that cab, to just go ahead and drive home - to take that risk, along with thousands of other people out there, doing the same thing at the same time.
Or to have to stock up on Saturday to have something to drink while watching the Steelers on Sunday.
I look at the Pa system as a system for 8 year olds, not adults. Alcohol is a legal beverage that should be enjoyed by any legal adult when they want to drink. Of course, if you made Pennsylvania law the same as Nevada law, there would be chaos, but you would find that, over time, it would work. For now, you just might consider letting adults have the opportunity to buy alcohol at a grocery store or convenience mart. It's about time. -- Jon McCartney, Reno, Nevada
Like everything in Pa. goverment it has outlived its time. Get rid of the state store system. -- Ronald Hamer, N. Versailles,pa
I moved to Pittsburgh nearly three years ago for law school. In a few short months (I'm counting the days), I'm moving to New York. PA's alcohol control regime is representative of the red tape in every area of life in this God forsaken state.
Most of all, I'm tired of feeling like I'm being nickeled and dimed to death with taxes. Maybe longtime Pennsylvanians don't notice anymore, but I do. This "pour" tax is the latest blow. Is it really too much to ask to be able to go to a corner store and by a six pack of Yuengling at the end of a hard day without going broke? In Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I used to live, I could buy a 6 pack for $4.75 only a block from my house. Now I have to drive two miles and pay $8.25 ($7.50 plus the new "pour" tax). Why?
Why is Pennsylvania so committed to driving young people from its borders? Because it's doing an amazingly good job. There's a reason that Pittsburgh has been ranked as the worst city in the country for singles by Forbes Magazine multiple times. Toolish laws, written by toolish people.
And what do we get for it? New York, Chicago, Boston all have great public transit systems. Pittsburgh's is one of the worst in the country (though admittedly with some great six figure pensions I hear). The roads are in pathetic shape. The schools are embarrassing. Property taxes are through the roof. Sales and income taxes are as high as anywhere. PennDot is the most corrupt DOT in the country. The state makes billions off of its liquor regime. I don't get it. Where on earth does it all go?
But like I said, that's why I'm out. -- Matt Nelson, Pittsburgh, PA
I echo the vast majority's negative opinion in this forum regarding the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board's monopoly over our liquor
sales. I find it irritating and hypocritical that this system now allows the state's liquor stores to carry traditional grocery store products, such as overpriced olives and cocktail onions, yet, prevents the grocery stores from carrying liquor on their shelves. How is this lack of competitive pricing benefiting responsible, of-age and law-abiding Pennsylvanian consumers? Yes, yes, sign us up - we'd all like a few overpriced olives to plop into the already overpriced liquor we have to buy for mixing drinks... -- Stefanie Presley, Mt. Lebanon, PA
I have lived in Las Vegas and now California after moving from PA 10 years ago. I have been in the food and beverage business for 14 years. Here's what goes on out here. We have wine and liquor reps who bring their new vintage wines and new liquors to your establishment to try. Delivery of wine, beer, and liquor orders (to your business!!!) are usually available on multiple days of the week for your conveniece. Also if you do not work 9-5 as the PLCB thinks the whole state does, you can go buy a bottle of liquor, wine, or beer after work but before 2 am. I can't really see how it has the ruined the quality of life around any of the grocery store or convenience store neighborhoods as a bible thumper or the PLCB would have you think. Wake up as citizens of the state and demand reform. I still come back home every year and check out the State Store wine selection in Greensburg, it is a sad joke, my local grocery store has a better selection than some of the State Stores I have been into plus they have beer, oh my! -- Mike Kirk, Truckee. Ca via Greensburg Pa.
It somehow seems that every story about the PLCB (this series and others) focuses obsessively on the supposed negatives of our system. There are certainly bad things about the PLCB and these should be investigated, but so far this series hardly tries.
Let's consider some examples.
Mr. Twedt's asserts that the average PLCB clerk's salary is around $30k, then goes on to state, apparently with approval, that liquor store employees in Ohio get about half that and no benefits. Note that $15k is below the poverty line for a family of 3. Maybe this is something to explore in a story about weakness in the Ohio economy. But why exactly would it be a good thing for Pennsylvania?
Mr. Twedt claims that the PLCB is riddled with "inefficiencies that no private business would tolerate". Yet the PCLB returns close to a third of its revenues to the state. How many businesses can claim that for their investors? And the money doesn't just float away; it's used to provide needed services to the citizens of Pennsylvania.
It's of course the case that some stores lose money. The reason (as the writer admits) is that the PLCB is willing to locate outlets in sparsely populated areas, as a service to citizens. Why is this a problem?
I've been to privately-owned liquor stores in other states. They don't seem to be all that special. Sure, the wine is cheaper in California, but the prices in (say) Maryland are the same or higher, the selection is terrible and the stores tawdry-looking. It could be just the few that I visited, but they sure don't compare favorably with the ones in PA's. Maybe it's just Maryland. On the other hand, you can go to a store like Zachys (in the NYC area) and find both a fabulous selection and a great atmosphere. But you probably won't like the prices. Could Pittsburgh support even one store like that? Maybe. Maybe not. There's way fewer people around here, and we're not so rich.
Of course, there are many things to complain about.
For example, the "President's Choice" program really has deteriorated: The selections have become pretty shabby; I've noticed some familiar wines being sold in vintages that are on the cusp of going over the hill. A nice discount, sure. But a bargain? Not really.
Sometimes wine and beer are just part of the groceries; we should be able to buy them in the supermarket. At the very least the PLCB should start opening shops inside supermarkets (just like the banks and the dry cleaners). And maybe we should once and for all get rid of that beer distributor system, a prime example of privatization gone horribly wrong. -- Alex Rudnicky, Pittsburgh, PA
The PA State Liquor Store system is archaic, insulting, and most definitely a form of prohibition; which we all know failed miserably in the 1920's! Why then, do we continue to endorse and allow such a ludicrous practice to exist in our state? Let's throw it out by only electing government officials that will stand up to the "status quo" and do away with it once and for all. -- Anthony Williams Carnegie, PA
One visit to a couple of our flagship liquor chains in Texas (such as Specs or Grapevine Market) will convince just about anyone of the futility of the state store system in Pennsylvania.....Not only do they have an outstanding selection of spirits and wines, but they sell gourmet foods and even have a huge in the store deli where you can grab a deli quality sandwich. The staff is knowledgable and if they don't have it.....they will order it for you......and the ability to get beer at the grocery or convenience store is a blessing as well........an people in PA wonder why people are leaving the state..... -- Mark Evert (formally of Bethel Park)Lago Vista, TX
When I scanned the comments about your series on the PLCB tonight, the last one caught my eye. Not because of repeating the oft stated objections to the system, but because the writer said she was not planning to stay in PA much longer. My sentiments exactly! My wife and I have lived in PA all our lives, but I'll be damned if we will die here. The LCB is just one of many political problems in PA, and we are heading out while still alive! -- T. Greenholt, Wexford, PA
The State stores charge $31.02(that includes all taxes), for a 750 ML bottle of vodka. My friend who travels to New Hampshire pays $21.00 there.
Do away with the State stores. -- David Hall, Pittsburgh, Pa
I think it's a good idea to derive State income from non-necessities like alcohol and tobacco sales, but the argument that it curbs underage drinking is laughable. Penn State was ranked the number two drinking school in the nation last yea and as an alumnus who now lives in a state without the state store policy, I can say that attest to the fact that alcohol is just as accessible for underage drinkers in Pennsylvania as it is anywhere else. -- Anne Byrnes, Knoxville, TN
Let's give away from our state government a half-billion dollars in alcohol beverage sales profits and give it to a bunch of supermarket chains so they can hire a few $10 an hour workers. Then, let's create new taxes to make up for the half-billion dollar shortfall each year.
At least the wine connoisseurs will be happy! -- Jim Froehlich, Pittsburgh
The sale of alcohol in this state is to say the least "antique". Just a short drive away, you can get your groceries, beer, and wine all in one stop.
You can buy 6 packs, to sample new brews. Possibly a good thing for the breweries, such as the craft brewers. Really who wants to fork out for a 24 of something NEW, to find out that you really don't like it.
I work in the medical field, having lived in other places like NC, FL and TX, and the Great White North, I have to say, this state is so farrrrrrrrrrr behind, it thinks it's first.
A little trip to Maine, and you can even add a Jack Daniels to your grocery list.
Try registering a car from out of state. Unbelievable experience. Any wonder the population is shrinking! -- J Smith, Penn Hills, Pa.
My thoughts are the same as the overwhelming majority of thinking people in our state, the LCB is a joke. There are many important functions of the government that should never be privatized, social security, etc., but government control of liquor!? All that money that could go to good use by privatizing the state stores and this exercise in polling will be as close as we get to rectifying an archaic political decision; truly an embarrassment for our state. --
Tom Stoviak, Pittsburgh, PA
What foolishness - allowing politicians to control your booze. We've done many stupid things here in Maryland but nothing that dumb. -- Peter Samuel, Frederick MD
Who is more likely to not serve alcohol to minors: an employee who is somewhat shielded from termination by politics, working in a store which cannot lose its license to sell alcohol because it is operated by the licensor itself? Or an employee who could quickly be terminated for his or her indiscretion, working at a store whose license to sell alcohol could be revoked?
A note to one of the nation's largest full-time legislatures: get out of the business of selling alcohol and get into the business of finding solutions to public transportation, health care, urban divestment, and the ever-growing disparities in income, educational attainment and economic opportunity. It is entirely within our ability to aggressively tackle these pressing quality of life issues - and unless we do, there soon won't be anyone left for the state to sell liquor to. -- Andrew Macurak, South Side Flats
This system is absolutely rediculous and should be abolished as soon as possible. The prices are not competitive with other states and the service is abysmal. I once went into a state store and asked for a particular wine that would go well with turkey. His response was "You want a Turkish wine?". I explained once again describing the wine that I wanted. His response was "oh, we wouldn't have anything like that here!". I was flabberghasted. What do you mean you wouldn't have it. If you don't, who would. You're the only ones allowed to sell it. He recommended that I try a store on the other side of town. He did not offer to call ahead for me. This horribly inefficient system is maintained only for the benefit of the union. -- John Cook, Erie, Pa.
I do not collect wine. Therefore, the lack of access to the high end product is not an issue for me personally. However, I do read various wine periodicals and I become frustrated when many (if not most) of the wines reviewed are not available at the local state stores (even the specialty shops). I also find it frustrating that even if you can find the particular wine in the system, you must order at least six bottles before they will ship it to your local shop. The system should be opened up to allow private boutique wine sellers. This would not compete with the PLCB but enhance the availability of small production wines. -- Jeff Hanlon, Plum, Pa.
State store system should be abolished, and a privatization plan should be introduced to the state. shoppers in our neighboring states enjoy the convenience of an open market on alcoholic beverage sales, along with competitive pricing, is an added bonus. And retailers enjoy the additional sales revenue to their bottom line. Seems to me privatization is a winning proposition for everyone involved. -- Lee Mignogna, Pitcairn, PA
The present system stinks. We dont need all these employees so we can pay them pensions and benefits plus salaries. The system should be privatized. Thanks for listening. -- Gary Gradler
As a consumer, we are unhappy that the prices in the state stores are considerably higher than what you pay in the supermarkets in many other states. Name brands of wine are sometimes several dollars more than what they can be purchased for elsewhere. Moreover, the choice is limited. Because of the state store system, we are not able to have wines from other parts of the country shipped to us as happens in many other states. Because the state store system buys in such quantity, the high end boutique wines are not available for purchase in PA. We would be thrilled to see the system privatized to open up competition which would drive prices down and choices up. -- Lewis and Donna Patterson, Franklin Park
The LCB is one more manifestation of the rigid Pennsylvania mindset that is resistant to change. The LCB is symbolic of political favoritism, maintenance of the good ole boy network, and an easy conduit for political paybacks and rewards. Logic, efficiency, customer satisfaction and accountability have nothing to do with it.
The pathetic, corrupt, bloated legislature, ruled by lobbyists and political self-interest, with no accountability and little communication with the voters is the poster child of archaic thinking that is unresponsive to process improvement or adoption of change. It amazes me that the citizens of Pennsylvania put up with such blatant corruption. So maybe the real answer is you have gotten what they deserve. Perhaps the reality of Harrisburg -- and an increasing awareness that most of the country has found a better way - will finally create enough unrest to change the PA constitution -- or at least vote [them] out of office
But don't hold your breath. -- Paul Valovich, Ridgecrest, CA; Charleroi and Roscoe, PA
i'm for some form of privatization.
the money from such sale should be used for property tax reduction/elimination and senior citizens.
i live in bristol, pa along the delaware river. purchasing wines and liquors i prefer to go across the bridge to new jersey. or who ever is coming over to my house from jersey i'll give them a call to bring me something over.
better selection, price and choice and bigger stores. -- c. harris, bristol, pa
Having moved to Arizona recently I am in a state which allows sales of beer, wine and liquor in most stores including grocery and drug stores. What a difference from the tightly controlled system in Pennsylvania. Imagine picking up a six-pack or bottle of wine while shopping! No additional trip to a bar, state store or beer distributor. Also prices are competitive so you can look for the best price. Selection in awesome. I haven't noticed drunken minors outside of the various establishments; DUI is no higher than other areas.
C'mon Pennsylvania get with it. State control is outdated and costly. -- Bud Masters, Tucson, Arizona
No matter how many Pa state stores you go to, there is only one type of grenadine you can buy. -- Dave, Shadyside, Pittsburgh, Pa.
The Pa state store system shows why monnopoly's do not work. Are you happy with Comcast? Too, bad, it's all we have if you live in Pgh. Do you think a clerk that makes $7.00 an hour with no benefits should make $30,000 annually with benefits? What private enteprenuer would overpay his employes. Qe are reading about a store that lost $68,000 dollars. It most likely has 3 employes making $100,000 (+ bennies). A real business would have an owner and 2 clerks and the salaries would be $30,000 for 2 clerks and the rest as profit (or loss) for the owner. If he lost money the store would be out of business. What store keeps a money losing store open 'for the convenience of customers'? Give me a break. If you want spirits and only can get them with a 10 mile drive, then you are going to make that 10 mile drive. It's called economics 101.
The dufuses who run this system are in it for the political power, not for making money. The Johnstown flood happened 72 years ago. Is it still wet in Johnstown? Are we still sopping up the water? Why in the heck are we paying a Johnstown flood tax?
Blow up this archaic system as fast as you can.
-- Mike Singer, Pittsburgh, Pa.
I think we are making too much of the way liquor is controlled in Pennsylvania. Sure, the system is antiquated, but there are plenty of more important issues to whine about. If Pennsylvanians are so concerned about how alcohol is bought and sold, maybe they should take a closer look at how and why alcohol is abused. -- John Moyer, Pittsburgh, Pa.
I feel the concept of the State Store is archaic and defeats the concept of free enterprise. But if you think the prices would come down if the stores are privatized, think again. Taxes are taxes, regardless of who collects them. However, I am all for giving the public more chances for small business ownership. The purpose of the government is not to sell liquor, or anything else. -- Kathy Brandt, Largo, FL
Jonathan Newman was a breath of fresh air and the innovation he brought to our liquor store system was greatly appreciated as much as it was needed. His departure and the circumstances under which it happened leaves one with the impression of "more of the same old politics". Given where our august legislature is re: property tax reform, road financing, public education, to say nothing of a rather simple public smoking ordinance, it is highly unlikely that they would be able to figure out how to make up the revenue losses that would come from privatizing the state store system, or how to deal with union politics in PA.
That being said, can we at least not lose what Newman brought to the system? Our system has improved beyond description in my adult lifetime. The selection is far greater, the employees are better trained and the retail locations are a pleasure to go into. However, it will take innovative management skills and leadership with vision to keep the liquor store system moving forward. My greatest concern is that it will begin to backslide and there will be no one there who really cares. Let's not allow a "take it or leave it" mentality return to the PLCB. -- Bill Cammarata, Sewickley, Pa.
Can you say Soviet Russia circa 1970, wherein the state will control every facet of your life, causing the people to buy bread and other staples of life at "state stores" wherein there is absolutely no choice of product. The state of Pennsylvania is the most parochial state in this country, treating its citizens like children; but the citizenry continues to take it and say in effect "Thank you sir, may I have another?" We travel extensively, and when one visits Virginia, Michigan, Connecticut etc. one finds huge stores with a selection of beers and wines to be found nowhere in Pennsylvania. These stores are so large, with a massive inventory, that it is practically impossible not to find exactly what you want at prices much lower than found in The Peoples' Republic of Pennsylvania. It's no wonder that so many people from here bring back cases of wines and beer from these progressive states. I'm particularly jealous of those who live on borders so they can purchase freely in other states. I'm sick of having to make three separate stops to purchase beer, wine and groceries. How about the waste of gasoline and time! In Florida for example, you need only go to Publix to purchase everything you need for tonight's dinner.
Get the anti-American, anti-Capitalist state government out of a perfectly legitimate retail business and focus on oversight and enforcement which is their just prevue. Wake up backward Pennsylvanians!!!!! -- A.V. Allen, Pittsburgh, Pa.
The State Store system as you noted is primarily in business to create and protect the jobs of the employees working for the system. The argument that the system protects against underage drinkng is without foundation. If that were the case then we should offer similar protection for firearms sales.
Choice is restricted, location is restricted and costs are high. I would like to know what the value of the system is on the open market. My guess is that it is worth in excess of $5 billion dollars. Selling the retail sales and distribution liquor (and beer)business is the right thing to solve our fiscal mess. The state would still receive the tax revenues without the beuaracracy. That would go a long way further than the Allegheny County drink tax.
Virtually every other state allows free enterprise and not government to operate the liquor and beer business. except us. We are so backward in this area it amazes anyone not familar with our archaic system to hear how Pennsyvania does things.
Congatulations for reporting on this issue. -- Robert Tunno, Greensburg, Pa.
When I travel back home to PA, I'm reminded about the system there and how it compares to that here in SC. The PA system makes things more difficult, but SC's is not perfect either.
PA: Wine and liquor from the Commonwealth only, beer from only certain places.
SC: Liquor is only available from privately owned liquor (ABC) stores. Many of those stores sell wine, too. The ABC stores can only be open during daylight hours, and are closed on Sundays. Wine and beer is available in what seems like infinite variety at the groceries. Great selection of wines is stocked in the local Piggly Wiggly (that and Giant Eagle have got to be the best grocery store names, ever :-). Beer is available at convenience stores and gas stations. Beer and wine are available 24 hours a day, 365 or 366 days a year. -- Edwin Smith, Charleston, SC
I absolutely love the fact that the government of Pennsylvania still cares about the health and well-being of its citizens and children enough that it controls liquor sales. Those naysayers who want us to be just like every other boring state and sell booze everywhere and anywhere have got it all wrong. I think we should celebrate our uniqueness.
When I ran for the State House years ago, I was a vocal supporter of the state system and openly told voters that as a 15 year-old child back in the early 1980's I would and could frequently purchase beer in convenience stores in West Virginia (where the age limit was only 18). I'm not proud of that fact, but it goes to show that easier access to alcohol will certainly lead to more teenage drinking. And besides, why is it the state's job to get more people to consume alcohol? It isn't. Alcohol is a drug. Long live our wonderful state store system! -- Larry Zalewski, Mt. Lebanon, Pa.
The way the state runs the package stores is illegal. They run it as if we are in Russia.
Coming from CT it's strange and sure not handy to use and find. I don't like having to go into a tavern to get a six pack of beer either. Found a restaurant 10 miles away to get a six pack. People should be able to buy beer and wine in the Grocery Store.
A couple of weeks ago I wanted to get a couple bottles of wine and a bottle of liqueur. We were giving a dinner party and the wine was for dinner and the other I needed for preparing the main dish. BUT the package store, sorry I mean "state store", was closed and was so for two days. We have a friend, who travels thru the state, who just happened to be coming thru, so he picked up the bottles from NY for us.
The "greedy" state can use any excuse they want, but it's not working. -- Jane Fortier, Northern Cambria, Pa.
One of the most laughable arguments is that this is a safer system. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the county in alcohol related traffic fatalities (behind California, Texas and Florida) and has a higher death rate than Illinois, which has full service liquor stores in supermarkets; Ohio, where you can buy a six pack of beer at a gas station and Colorado, where I was able to purchase beer at a supermarket at 11pm on a Sunday evening.
It if is truly about safety, how come the state does not take over the beer distributors? After all, these places force you to purchase more alcohol that you might actually need or want. This system must go! -- Jim Futrell, Bethel Park
I have long been a proponent of getting our Commonwealth out of the business of selling liquor. It just doesn't make sense, really, for there to be government involvement at that level.
On a trip to Baltimore to visit my sister, I volunteered to go to the liquor store to pick up a couple of bottles for her. The store was dirty - though since it was dimly lit, that was a little hard to see - completely disorganized, and certainly didn't make me feel safe. I had to pass my money through a pass-through of a thick piece of (presumably) bullet-proof glass to a person who barely spoke English and certainly didn't seem friendly. To my surprise, the prices of the items I bought were about the same as I'd have paid here in Pennsylvania. Long gone are the days where our neighbors pay far less than we do for their booze. Maybe they're now implementing a Johnstown Flood tax, too.
Now, when I visit our stores - clean, stocked, organized, well-lit, with friendly employees, I am thankful. Their hours are (finally) good. Their prices are comparable to nearby states. Their locations are convenient. The fact that they're making money for the state is a plus, too - do you really think that "Slick Eddie" Rendell would look to control costs if he lost that revenue? No, he'd use it as an excuse to raise our taxes!
I (now) say keep them how they are - something that five years ago, I never thought I'd say. I've seen the grass on the other side, and it looked something like Heinz Marsh on the night of November 26, 2007! -- Geoff Marton, South Side Slopes, Pittsburgh
I am an ex-resident of Pittsburgh now living in Columbus, Ohio. I thought the state store system was a bad joke when I lived in Pittsburgh. Now that I'm no longer living in Pa. I think its even worse than when I lived there. I can go to my local Krogers and get beer, wine and w