There are approximately 450 liquor stores in Washington, DC, for 581,000 people, in 61 square miles.
There are 627 liquor stores listed in the Chicago phonebook, for 2,869,121 people, in 227 square miles.
There are approximately 2,500 liquor stores in New York state, covering 47,213 square miles of land.
The entire state of Pennsylvania, with a population four times that of Chicago, spread out over 44,820 square miles of land (94% the size of New York), including Philadelphia (the fifth-largest city in the country), has 623* liquor stores. [Update: as of 6/1/2013, there are now only 596 State Stores in Pennsylvania. No one will say why they've closed 27 stores in five years...but it does give me hope.]
We're Seriously Under-served
This is a problem with multiple sources, and multiple effects. It comes from parsimony -- when you're paying for the stores and the employees and the transport of booze to them, you don't want too many cost centers -- it comes from patronage -- more votes, more state employment bucks in the district, and the boonies get the shaft -- but never doubt that the main reason goes back to the Two-Headed Monster: it's about "temperance."
Specifically, it comes down to "control of access." The New Drys, having officially given up on prohibition, have latched on to the idea that fewer booze stores means less drinking. As usual, I think their cause-and-effect thinking is ass-backwards: less drinking means fewer booze stores, that's just capitalism. But they have a point: if they make it as big a pain in the butt as possible to buy booze, people will probably buy less booze. (In Pennsylvania, anyway: there's a reason you see so many PA plates in the parking lots at Delaware and New Jersey booze stores.)
After all, when it comes right down to it, you don't need that many booze stores. The State's got it all figured out, just how many stores is enough...and, obviously, exactly what you need in those stores. Amazing, really, how the market has figured out a completely different number in New York, 4 times as many, but that's the mind power of the PLCB for you. You only need to buy so much booze, so you only need so many stores.
You know, they're right, to a certain extent. I have way more booze than I need. It's because when I get out of State -- "out of Control," as Carolyn so brilliantly put it -- I see stuff I can't get at home (or don't find because the organization and signage is so pathetic) and I buy it. Now...that's probably booze I didn't need. But you know, I don't need 30 different kinds of cheese either, or five different kinds of bacon, or (God help me) 45 different kinds of mustard. But there's no pack of ying-yangs in Harrisburg making that decision for me, and there's no group of commissars on the Susquehanna deciding that Bucks County only needs ten supermarkets.
Why is there one for booze stores?
The PLCB should be abolished because the number of State Stores in Pennsylvania -- as set by the PLCB -- follows no logic, no rhyme or reason, no market demand or niche. It is simply a decision, an arbitrary decision...as is much of the Pennsylvania Liquor Code. There is no need for the PLCB -- the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board -- to set limits like this. There is no legislation to limit numbers of gun shops, gas stations, fast food outlets, pet stores, tanning parlors, or supermarkets. Why are there limits on the number of booze stores, who sets those limits, and what arcane formulae do they use to determine them? I suspect the answers to those questions are "Just 'cuz," "us," and "that's all you need." I strongly suspect that.
I don't need a booze store on every corner, to be sure. But I also don't need a State bureaucracy telling me just how many they think I do need, especially when it's a number that's obviously out of whack with the rest of the Union.
*It may be a few more or less: the PLCB has been opening and closing stores recently in some mad rationalizing process. Needless to say, there is no apparent pattern to these openings and closings.