Privatize the PLCB

Sad looking liquor store

Sad looking liquor store, originally uploaded by camera_obscura.

Two weeks ago, Steve Twedt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette authored a series of articles on the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board: what it is, why this state says it needs to hold a monopoly on wine and liquor sales (but not beer sales), alternative reasons why it does this, and how the system affects businesses and individuals. The series starts with this article, and there you can find links to the rest of the coverage.

Pennsylvania’s liquor laws drive me absolutely mad, both because they make it impossible to find wines and liquors I want and because they’re clearly inefficient from a market standpoint.

I’d planned to write a rant about this, but I get so angry even thinking about it that I can’t write straight.

Fortunately, John McIntyre wrote a perfect column on this very subject, "Hitting the Bottle," in the Feb. 7 issue of City Paper.

Last Tuesday, a state Senator introduced a bill to privatize liquor sales. No word yet on the PCLB’s response. I suspect that bill will receive hard opposition.

In the past, state lawmakers have said there’s no reason to change the system because no one complains about it. The letters to the Post-Gazette seem to indicate there’s an unheard majority who want the state to get out of the business of selling wine and liquor. Let’s make our voices heard in Harrisburg.

16 replies on “Privatize the PLCB”

  1. The PLCB is a friggin joke. Friend of mine brought up a good point recently. So the PLCB stands on the belief that because of them underage and bindge drinking is regulated but yet the only size of beer I can purchase is a case… so I can buy mass quantities of beer but not spirits.

    the alcohol laws in this state are ridiculous. Someone should let the state know that prohibition died over 70 years ago. I think we’re grown up enough to buy a 6pk and groceries in the same store.

  2. Father Spoon: Doesn’t it seem that it would be smart for the state to let us buy food when we buy alcohol? One shouldn’t drink on an empty stomach.

    I may have blogged previously that the fact that it’s not as easy for me to buy a 6-pack of beer means that I drink less beer since I moved back to PA. Prohibitionists might think that’s a good thing — that my case proves these laws are reducing alcohol consumption — but what it really means is that I drink more cocktails now.

  3. I read that in the Post and it too got me fired up again about the PLCB. I am glad I am not the only person that thinks we need to put a end to the PLCB.

    I drink more beer now becuse I have to buy it by the case. If I could easy and cheaply pick up a six pack before a party I would drink less.

    I hate buying beer in bulk.

    I hope I see the day when I can go to Giant Eagle, pick up a six pack and or bottle.

  4. The PLCB is a cash hog. Most people dont bitch because they think this is the way it is everywhere. PA is suck every penny from you that they can and then throw some bullshit like “it’ll save the kids” to make the freaky freaks jump on the bandwagon

  5. I think you people need to consider a few things ahead of your yearn for alcohol. I work for the PLCB in a wine & spirits superstore, I have worked there for 8 years. I have a 9 month old daughter. If the PLCB stores were privatized, I’d be out of a decent paying job and wouldn’t be able to survive. Consider the people like me who go to work every day and take pride in their job. Making excuses like (“I drink more beer now becuse I have to buy it by the case.”) is ridiculous. Nobody’s pouring the beer down your throat just because you can’t drink responsibly.

  6. Frank, if the PLCB is privatized, someone still needs to work for the newly converted retail stores, and wholesale centers too. I can’t check myself out.

    I don’t see any reason for you to lose your job — surely when a government service is privatized, the new management turns first to the current employees when hiring.

    And in particular, I’ll guess that the state would make it a contingency of the purchase that the new management would need to hire some percentage of current staff.

    Have you been told differently? By whom?

  7. Frank,

    If you take pride in your job and you work hard, I think you could find another job. You might even find one that pays more than the one you have now. Better yet, you might consider starting a business on the side to supplement your income centered around something you enjoy doing. Why sell yourself short?

  8. Frank, I wasn’t making an excuse I was pointing out the stupid beer laws that this state has. Never assume you’re going to lose your job but if you do take your knowledge of your job and roll with it. Travis and cindy bring up good points.


  9. One of the big reasons Pennsylvania’s government is still in the retail liquor business is a very noisy union that represents the employees who work in the state stores. I don’t have any doubts that Mr. Froese would have a hard time making what he makes now if he was working in a privately owned store instead — because the folks who work the state-store jobs are paid very, VERY well.

    I don’t have any reason to doubt Mr. Froese’s claims about his family situation, but I’ve heard that spiel before, from other PLCB employees, just about any time the issue of privatization comes up. It’s a great way to evoke sympathy, but the logic of holding up privatization because it would irritate a couple of powerful groups that like to throw money around in Harrisburg makes little sense.

    And let’s be clear — the money is a big deal. The two unions that represent state store employees donated more than $30,000 to state-level candidates in 2006; the Pennsylvania Beer Wholesalers Association, another group with a vested interest in keeping things as they are, donated more than $12,000 to state Sen. Sean Logan of Monroeville — who turned around a few months later and sponsored legislation to keep beer out of grocery stores. Sen. Logan said his concern was keeping alcohol out of the hands of minors. I don’t think he mentioned the five-figure campaign contribution at the public hearing.

    Mr. Froese, I’m sorry if it seems like I’m piling on here, but I get tired of this discussion getting steered away from what matters — and that’s the money, if I hadn’t made myself clear already — and towards the kind of whitewashing the unions, trade groups and legislators want us to believe.

    Privatization of the state’s alcohol business makes sense for the state’s consumers. And it will never happen until somebody has the nerve to put the consumers at the top of the priority list.

  10. While my heart goes out to the state employees, it would be an obvious advantage to the consumer to privatize the liquor stores. The loss of jobs is just one of many excuses as to why it shouldn’t be done; finding another job is more than possible, if inconvenient, and if they are accustomed to being well-paid for their level of service that is not the public’s problem.

    State advocates are painting an emotional/moral spin on a simple supply and demand situation. Harrisburg has benefited greatly from that supply and demand equation, so they are of course reluctant to give it up.

    A state-run monopoly is still a monopoly.

  11. I’d be willing to let the PLCB maintain their monopoly on brick-and-mortar stores provided I could order liquor via online/mail-order sellers.

    My big gripe with the state stores isn’t the inconvenient hours as much as the poor and inconsistent inventory. I’ve found items at one store that aren’t stocked at another store less than a mile away (Monroeville). Also, items that have been on the shelves for months will suddenly disappear, and when asked about it, the staff provides no concrete reason why (or offers any clue as to when the item may be in stock again).

    I would still probably buy 99% of my liquor locally, but for some of the more obscure stuff I’d really like to be able to order from out-of-state if the PLCB is going to insist on not stocking it ANYWHERE.

  12. Everybody: Well said! I feel like I should start posting blog entries with content like, “The PLCB: market-killing monopoly or sensible means of providing alcohol to respectable citizens. Discuss.” And then get out of the way and let y’all let fly.

    Dr. Bamboo: If the PLCB would let me order anything by mail or web, I would still buy stuff in their stores. Like most people, I buy a bottle of wine and consume it the same day, often within hours. (Not all by myself — at least, not every time.) I pick a bottle of wine up on the way to the party or coming back from the grocery store to serve that night, and I’m not willing to wait days for it to arrive by mail.

    So as a general rule, what I want is to be able to obtain, in a convenient way, stuff that it’s not economical for a retail store to keep in stock.

    Ordering something online and then still having to go to the local liquor store when it arrives is not a suitable alternative. I guess it’s better than nothing, but not much better.

    I still grate at the monopoly though. It feels like such a scam on the part of the state, telling us that they’re saving us money. As best I can see, they’re saving me money on products I will never want to buy. Feh on that.

  13. I didn’t realize how truly stupid PA’s system was until I briefly lived out of state in the 90’s. Instead of having to go to a state store, I could walk into any grocery store and pick up a single bottle of wine to go along with my dinner choices. And I found out, shopping late-nite for Christmas gifts to bring back home, that these same grocery stores won’t sell you alcohol after 2am, which was unfortunate for me at that particular time, but good to know in general.

    And now, so many of my favourite vineyards in WA State have online ordering of select stuff you’d never find here. Thanks to the PLCB I am not allowed to order anything from anywhere because I live in the fabulously backward Commonwealth of Pennsylvania where they know better than I what I am allowed to purchase online, or want from a wine store. Get the frakkin’ government out of the alcohol business, por favor. What I drink is none of their business.

  14. “So as a general rule, what I want is to be able to obtain, in a convenient way, stuff that it’s not economical for a retail store to keep in stock.”

    Exactly. Like you, I’d still buy most of my stuff from the state stores, provided I could get the occasional oddball item shipped to my home. The fact that the PLCB prohibits direct-to-consumer alcohol shipping is what grinds me.

    A few months ago I tried to special order a bottle of parfait amour (which I looked up on the PLCB site) through a state store. They told me it was unavailable from their distributor (no reason given), so I was out of luck.

    Which means that in effect, the Commonwealth of PA has told us that no one can legally have any parfait amour. Ludicrous.

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