José Garces' ... new something involves the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. That’s right — as part of a wider effort to rebrand its image, the PLCB will be pairing up with notable chefs and restaurateurs to open a handful of boutique wine stores, aiming to give oenophiles a more personal experience. (The Philadelphia location will be the first.) The specialty stores, whose inventories will include a few hundred bottles of wines not available in traditional Wine & Spirits stores, will hold tasting events and have a highly trained staff to help you find that perfect Pinot.Let's leave aside the easy joke -- that the "highly trained staff" must be the ones who already know how to say "Hello!" and "Thank you!" -- and take a look at this. Suppose you're a Center City restaurant owner, a similar cafe-type joint known for their wine selection: Tria, for instance, since that's the only wine bar kind of place I've ever been to in Philly (disclosure: I have taught three classes at Tria's Fermentation School). How do you feel about the PLCB opening a take-out store inside a competitor's restaurant -- bad enough already, when wine take-out is illegal for you -- that sells wines "not available in traditional Wine & Spirits stores," and the PLCB staff is going to hold tasting events for those take-out wines right there in that other restaurant? I'd feel pretty damned hard done by.
This is a government agency. If Pennsylvania was not a control state, and it was a private business doing this -- Moore Brothers, for instance, and wouldn't it be a happy freakin' day if the PLCB were to go away and Moore Brothers could come to Center City? (disclosure: I have done no business whatsoever with Moore Brothers, they don't know me from Adam) -- hey, no problem! Actually, given the arcane and pointless circumlocutions of liquor law across the country, it would probably be a huge problem getting it licensed, but ethically there's no problem. It's two businesses reaching an agreement, and Garces would either be paying Moore Brothers for the exclusivity or they'd be paying him for the floor space, depending on who got the jump on who. And if Jon Myerow at Tria wanted to cut a similar deal with Canal's, he could.
But the PLCB is a government agency with monopoly retail power. Myerow can't just find another company to make a deal with, or do it himself, because that's illegal. Illegal! He's got to go to the PLCB, hat in hand, and beg to be part of this new program. As would the folks at Chick's, or Southwark, or DiBruno Brothers, or any number of wine-friendly cafes and restaurants.
And the PLCB will either grant them the boon or not, according to their own agenda. A government agency that has an ironclad monopoly on retail sales has no right deciding to essentially grant that right to retail to one business and refuse it to another. The PLCB is totally out of touch with reality. They are "acting like a business" when they aren't a business. They are a 'business' with whom it is illegal to compete, a 'business' with the full force of government enforcement and coercion behind them, a 'business' that can interpret the law to suit themselves without fear of contradiction.
I'm going to have to quote Buddy "I married a PLCB manager" Hobart to express what I feel about this new initiative. "What I say to the skeptical," said Buddy Hobart, president of Solutions 21, "to those of us in the world who believe we've arrived and don't need to improve: Look up the word arrogant in the dictionary." When you find that page, I believe you'll find the PLCB logo next to that definition.
Two notes at the end. First, I'm not pissed at José Garces, not in the least. I don't blame him for doing this, it's a sweet deal, and he would have been a fool not to take the PLCB up on it. And I do look forward to the opening of his new Village Whiskey, which is, yes, a whiskey bar, coming soon, probably May, at 20th and Sansom.
And of course, I'm shocked -- shocked, I tell you! -- that PhillyMag would run this story without a word about how this might unfairly impact other city businesses. What's that you say? Why yes, that's the same PhillyMag that co-sponsors the Philadelphia Whiskey Festival with the PLCB (which also runs one of these mini-stores right at the festival, while not allowing brewers to sell at beer festivals), and not a word of disclosure in the story. Good separation of advertorial and editising departments there.