After more than 80 years, the consumers and businesses of Pennsylvania deserve more than a small attempt to correct an archaic system that is in desperate need of reform.
The state-run system of selling adult beverages in Pennsylvania is flawed. It leads to high prices, a lack of choice and a major inconvenience for consumers who have to make three stops if they want to buy a case of beer, a six pack and wine or liquor.
Businesses, large and small, compete in an open market, and true reform would encourage competitiveness. It would have this state operate as almost every other state already does.
The rumors are flowing that, in order to “pass something,” our Legislature is considering small changes: placing wine in some grocery stores and a few other steps and then claiming reform! Doing something small and claiming a political win is not a solution! Consumers will only be more confused and still have to drive to several stores to meet their needs. By maintaining the current wholesale system, prices will remain high and selection limited. On the surface, it may sound like a win for consumers but they will soon see that this is a failed attempt to change an antiquated system. Pennsylvania will retain the image of backwards and out-of-date.
Limited reform would produce no real winners. Consumers and businesses would continue to lose out. Food merchants would still have only limited access to the adult-beverage market. Beer distributors, like me, would continue to lose value. Manufacturers would have fewer outlets for their products. With a small fix, restaurants and taverns would still purchase from an outdated wholesale system.
Leaving the state-run wholesale system intact would mean little change in prices and selection because it would still be controlled by one agency. No competition means higher prices. That is a simple fact.
Real reform would satisfy consumers and help many small business people like me — entrepreneurs who feel as though they have their hands tied behind their backs.
Many states have successful models for the sale of adult beverages. All business stakeholders in Pennsylvania want changes that would benefit their bottom line, and with a collaborative effort these issues can be addressed.
Look at other markets and see how varied interests can be profitable. Valuable questions to answer would be: Do your counterparts thrive in other states in an open market? Are restaurants and taverns doing well? Are package stores alive and well? Do food merchants provide a good selection and price? Are wholesalers and suppliers selling products and making a reasonable profit? Is misuse of adult beverages any different in other states?
Instead of considering a “we did something” minimalist approach, our legislators should effect real change. A business coalition has focused on these problems and has built the framework for a plan that considers all parties. This free-market plan should be considered.
We have an obligation to transform Pennsylvania’s outdated system into one that works well for the consumer, providing them with good prices, selection and convenience as they desire. Let’s bring Pennsylvania into the 21st century.
Richard Pluta owns Newport Beverage in Newport, Pa., near Harrisburg.