Thursday, April 24, 2008

Feedback -- off to a good start

I got the following e-mail yesterday -- only 30 hours after launching this blog -- under the subject line: "You have become my new favorite person." Thinking it was yet another offer from an Ivory Coast millionaire, I almost deleted it, but I looked, and found this.

Dear Lew,

Your PLCB blog and first postings are like the the return of summer to the Arctic after 6 months of darkness. I have been feeling increasingly disgusted and distressed by the alcohol laws in this state and believe that we the citizens need to work to dismantle them. My disgust with the PLCB might have reached its nadir this weekend when I went to buy four bottles of wine at the FXXXX store (the writer said I could post this, but asked me to take out clues to his identity), and was told "you expect me to get your bottles out of the basket?" --- It was about the first time I ever thought about slugging a woman.

My background, Lew, is that PA is the sixth state that I have lived in (which means I have lived in over 10% of the US!). Prior to here I have been in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Washington, and Michigan. Pennsylvania has the worst, most pathethic system for booze purchasing that I have come across in all of the places I have lived, and I would venture, that the laws here might very well be the worst in the country. It pangs me to no end that I can't go to Trader Joes and buy 2-Buck Chuck or beer, or that I can't go up to Whole Foods to buy beer and wine.

What we need is a ballot initiative abolishing the PLCB and privatizing booze sales -- to start with.

Count me in!

And that's just the best one. There have been five other supportive e-mails (besides the comments I've put up on the blog already) already. I've been contacted by a reporter from a major Pennsylvania newspaper about the blog. There are currently 50 votes on the site poll. Visits to the blog tripled on the second day and today's hits are on track to crush that.

Still waiting for my first negative comment. I'm sure it won't take long.


TC said...


I am curious as to a few things, which a man of your ingenuity and sources may be able to inform me. Or, perhaps, one of your fine and ever-growing number of readers can answer me.

1st - Is there any way to determine how much money the state makes from the sale wine and liquor? I like to think that we're only getting charged what PA pays for the stuff, plus a little tacked on for overhead, but given how much cheaper the prices are everywhere else, I cannot imagine that's the case. If it is the case, PA is running their business with remarkable inefficiency.

If the state is pulling in significant gains from liquor sales, I'm curious how that money could be replaced. Personally, I am reasonably certain that replacing the revenue is unnecessary (I like my government small and limited), but the Powers-That-Be are unlikely to give up funding without being able to replace it.

2nd - I'm curious if, historically speaking, or presently, if the government has been in the retail business of any other products. If it used to be, why isn't it anymore? If it still is, what's the justification for, well, combating competitive commerce?

A part of me wants to just keep reading and occasionally making "But think of the children!" jokes, but I agree that the PLCB stinks, and I believe that when you argue on behalf of booze, you need to know the facts. So, I'm trying to come at this inquisitively.

Lew Bryson said...


Not a problem, though I'll be doing this in more depth in future posts. Check out the "Facts & Figures" on the PLCB's site; they lay out the numbers. Thing is, a lot of the 'revenue' comes from taxes (6% sales and 18% "Emergency", about which a lot more to come), which would be collected by privately owned stores...without the State bearing any of the overhead costs. Duh. The profits are substantial, but so is the amount of tax money the state loses by having its biggest market -- Philadelphia, Bucks, Delaware, and Chester counties -- right up against border states that are only too happy to sell us what we want. I know a LOT of people who buy a LOT of booze in NJ, MD, and DE.

Don't know about your second point, but I was wondering about it myself. The government is in the mail delivery business, of course, and there are laws preventing private companies from delivering bulk mail and -- I think -- first class mail. There are gov't-owned utilities -- gas, electric, water -- and there are, of course, other control states. But other stuff? Dunno. Mean to find out.

Absolutely know the facts. If there are weak points to the argument, I want them out in the open.

TC said...

I don't know what buying liquor is like in Ohio, but downtown Pittsburgh is only about 20 miles from the border, and I wouldn't be stunned if P-burgh was losing some business to the Buckeye state.

Spencer said...

I used to live in Utah. The alcohol laws there were weird, to put it mildly.

But it wasn't as bad for buying wine and liquor as PA sounds like. Yes, the "booze" stores were state-owned. But still, 25 years ago, we had (in Salt Lake City) wine stores where the staff were knowledgeable, made recommendations, and even had a "quick chill" device so you could buy your bottle at drinking temperature.

How about that? Pennsylvania is worse than Utah for buying booze!

mattohara said...


There must be millions of us with similar experiences with the people at the state store. They're so uncaring, unenthused, probably underpaid, uneducated about the product that it makes buying a chore!

I've had that exact same thing happen when I come up to the counter. "I'm not taking those bottles out of the basket for you." In what other industry is it encouraged to hire people that know nothing about the product and require them to know nothing about the product even after they are hired?

Anonymous said...

I actually took the civil service exam required to work at one a few years ago. It took about an hour or two. Bunch of math problems and customer service scenerio type questions, as in how would you handle this? Anybody with a high school education and basic knowledge of customer service can pass the test..but then you are thrown into a pool of "waiting applicants." How soon you are offered an interview/job depends on your test score ranking, the county/store you wish to work in and whether or not they have an opening.