Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Do you know everything about vodka, yellowtail wines, and schlock liqueurs?

The PLCB is advertising an opening for Director of Product Selection. Good pay, too, starting at just under $61,000 to over $90,000, depending on experience.

Could someone with a freakin' clue please apply for this job?

Lawsuit looming over PLCB's monopoly extension at Garces Trading Co.

And it's about time.

Brownstoner, the Philly real estate blog, is reporting that the Washington Square West Civic Association, State Rep. Babette Josephs are joining with about a dozen Philly restaurants -- Le Bec Fin, Tria, Lolita, Fergie's, and Caribou Cafe among them -- in filing suit against the PLCB over the "wine boutique" they've placed in Garces Trading Company. It's not fair to work with one restaurant owner, they say.

The following quote pretty much summed it up for me, especially the first sentence:
"I have nothing but admiration for Jose Garces—this issue is not about him," Jon Myerow, the owner of Tria, said in a statement. "The issue is that of all restaurants being able to compete on a level playing field. In no other state has the alcohol governing body entered the restaurant industry to compete against the very businesses it regulates, all while partnering with hand-selected competitors. The incredible amount of choice we enjoy when dining out shows the free market at its best. If restaurants are forced to compete against the state, eventually there will be fewer restaurants."

Right. Remember Dominic Origlio's line from the PLCB hearings?  "I would be remiss without mentioning what I believe is the underlying cause of these regulatory and enforcement problems. Pennsylvania's beer industry is regulated by its competitor -- the Liquor Control Board, a state run corporation which sells wine and liquor."

Inherently unfair; now expressly unfair. Get Pennsylvania out of the retail booze business. Today.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

PLCB renews liquor license for convicted felon's nuisance bar: way to go, Joe!

Watch this video from Philly's NBC10, then tell me: is there any doubt that this is not just an agency that has outlived its usefulness, but one that is not even competent to perform the duties it has? After watching this report, I have to conclude that the PLCB has either made a policy of lying to the public, or has fostered such an atmosphere of incompetence that they actually don't know what they're doing. This is an agency in need of such re-working that it's time to do away with it. Tear it down, and start over, without the mistakes.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Beer Raid Resolution

Heard from Leigh Maida that the Memphis44Resurrection Raids are officially over; they got closure. All the details are here. What does all this come to? Well, for this incident, exactly nothing. Less than nothing: the BLCE blew thousands of dollars of your money out their collective asses to accomplish...a warning letter about a non-event.

Overall? A LOT of people learned just how archaic PA's booze laws are. That's a win for us. Don't let up!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Thank God: Wine Kiosks Still Viable!

It looks like my usually reliable source was wrong: the wine kiosks live! I'm so happy; I was really looking forward to seeing these wastes of money in operation. Thank you, PLCB, for restoring my faith in your bad decision-making capability!

Check out this latest hot wine kiosk news, in which PLCB Chairman PJ "PJ" Stapleton threatens that prototype wine kiosk deployment will take place at the Wegmans in Silver Spring Township, Cumberland County (which also sells beer!), and the Giant Food Store in Susquehanna Township, Dauphin County (which does not...). These are both hot-spots of wine-savvy grape mavens, I guess. Or maybe they're down the road from someone's house, I dunno. They're close to PLCB HQ, of course, and, like Jose Garces's restaurant -- I'm sorry, his grocery store, they were hand-picked by the PLCB to receive the largesse of extended monopoly.

According to the article, "The LCB has been testing the machines in a warehouse in Mechanicsburg for three months, making mostly technical and mechanical alterations to ensure the kiosks work properly, Stapleton said." I'll just bet. Wouldn't you like to have been there to watch the bottles full of water (you don't think...would they actually use real bottles of wine?!) come rolling out? The excitement as the teleoperator (were they in a completely different room of the building?!) determined whether the person utilizing the vending kiosk was the person their ID said they were, and were sober? There's a beaut: did they actually get someone drunk to test that?

I can't wait to drive to the Weggymans and try this dope device out. I may even buy a viddie-cam to share the moment with you. Won't that be fun!

Folks...the way to get wine sales into supermarkets -- which is clearly where the people who actually buy wine in Pennsylvania want them -- is to dump the State Store System and go to private sales: put wine on the shelves, not in some souped-up gumball machine. It's something we should have done 50 years ago. Here's hoping the kiosks are the final straw that demonstrate just how asinine this system is.

Oh, almost forgot: cui bono?You need to ask? Read this again, and then think: ask not what you can do for your State; ask what your State is doing to you.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

How losing six-pack sales may win us six-pack sales

The Malt Beverage Distributors Association (MBDA) is, and has been fighting the whole idea of six-packs in supermarkets (and convenience stores) for years. I can't blame them -- it's not really fair that Wegmans can sell six-packs while distributors cannot -- but it's not really fair that we can only buy them in bars, either. I also question the wisdom of pursuing it at this point, when beer has been sold in some Pennsylvania supermarkets for over a year. I'll explain that in a moment. Meanwhile, here's what they had to say about it, from the MBDA website. 
On April 14, 2010 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard oral argument in the Wegmans case. Representing MBDA was Robert B. Hoffman of Eckert Seamans law firm, who had successfully argued the Sheetz case for MBDA before the same Court in 2008.
Robert Heim of the Dechert law firm was brought in to argue on behalf of Wegmans.
It was an active court with the justices asking many questions of all parties. Those questions focused on whether it was sufficient that the Wegmans' Market Cafes qualify as a restaurant and whether the fact that they were part and parcel of and located within Wegmans made any difference. MBDA argued that the PLCB needed to look at the economic reality of the beer sales, which indicate that Wegmans Supermarket, not Wegmans Restaurant, is making the sales. Wegmans responded that it is within the PLCB's discretion to decide if interconnections between a supermarket and a restaurant disqualify a restaurant from holding a license to sell take-out beer. Wegmans [sic] contention is critical because, if correct, the standard of review that the Supreme Court must apply is to determine if the PLCB abused its discretion. The Supreme Court cannot simply substitute its own judgment for that of the PLCB's. However, if as MBDA contends, the issue is not one of abuse of discretion but simply whether or not the Liquor Code allows supermarkets to sell beer, which is what Wegmans Supermarket is doing, then the Supreme Court can apply its own analysis of whether or not the PLCB correctly interpreted the Liquor Code in reaching its decision to allow Wegmans to have a license
MBDA made a very strong argument, both factual, during the multiple Wegmans hearings that stretched over two years and still continue today with regard to other supermarket chains, and legal, as to why Wegmans is not entitled to a license. We believe the Court will carefully consider all the issues raised and issue its decision by late 2010.
I grew up in Lancaster County, so let me use a farm analogy. The MBDA is locking the stable after their horse already ran away. Pennsylvanians have been buying beer at supermarkets for over a year. They have seen that the MBDA's arguments are hollow, bogus, bullshit. "Kids" aren't buying beer at supermarkets, children aren't irreparably freaked out by seeing beer for sale at supermarkets (any more than my nieces are in New York), drunks aren't hanging around the stores or running over people in the parking lot. What is happening is that beer distributors' businesses are slumping in value, because a large hole has been poked in their monopoly; people who wouldn't go into a bar to buy a six-pack are going into the Giant Eagle. 

More importantly, if the MBDA should prevail in this court case, and the Supreme Court rules that these licenses are will be a disaster for the MBDA. If you give Pennsylvanians beer in supermarkets for a year...and then take it away, I guarantee you, they'll be furious. Their legislators will hear about it, the newspapers will write about it, hell, I'll sing about it! 

The MBDA should not have put all their eggs in the litigation basket. They should have been lobbying for the Legislature to fix up the very best deal that they could get. Instead...they're locking the stable door. Bad move. There were smarter plays to make. Winning may lose them everything. 

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Get Mom Vodka For Mother's Day? Why not?

If you've never heard of the Independent State Store Union, you're missing some fun. They're the union that represents the managers of the State Store System, and they have a real love-hate relationship with the PLCB and the state's monopoly on liquor and wine sales: they love to complain about the PLCB, and they apparently hate alcohol and working late. They put out press releases all the time, critical of the PLCB's  policies and the Board members themselves; they're usually inadvertently hilarious in their earnestness.

Recently, they sent an editorial to the Centre Daily Times suggesting that the serious abusive drinking situation at Penn State could be shorter hours in the State Stores. You can only assume that they'd expect to get the same pay for those shorter hours, but that probably has nothing to do with their idea, it's all about the children. They do display a disturbing disgust with alcohol, considering their job is selling it: "the PLCB continues to promote a carnival-like alcohol atmosphere for drinkers..." I haven't seen any tilt-a-whirls at my local State Store, but I'll keep an eye out for them.

Their latest press release is here...oh, to hell with it. I'll just reprint it. It's a press release, right, and this is the press, right? Fair use! They're upset that the PLCB has an ad campaign suggesting that folks buy their mothers a nice bottle of vodka for Mother's Day. Actually, they're freaking out about it.
"Your Mother's Day promotional radio ad program costing $142,000 is more damaging to the common good of all Pennsylvanians than the mere dollars expended.  You refuse as Board and chief staff members to make any decision that is contrary to the most outrageous marketing strategies of the alcohol beverage industry no matter what effect they have on the public good.  You are collectively the number one drug pushers in Pennsylvania.  As puppets of the alcohol beverage industry, you have abdicated any role of being a regulator against the bottom line interests of the industry," says Ed Cloonan, Information Director for ISSU.
Cloonan continues, "Your Mother's Day radio/print hawking promotions makes a joke of alcohol education for women.  In advance of Mother's Day 2011, you will be able to send coupons and frequent drinker credit rewards to pregnant women."
ISSU is asking all five gubernatorial campaigns to replace the three PLCB Board members, the CEO, the Director of Marketing and Merchandising, and the Director of Retail Operations as quickly as possible after the winning candidate assumes office in a new administration."

Where to begin?The guys who manage the stores that sell booze are accusing their bosses of being "drug pushers," they stoop to the lowest sort of neo-prohibitionist hype-drivel ("frequent drinker credit rewards to pregnant women," forsooth!), and...they're calling for their boss to be fired. Now, I'm all for calling for my boss to be fired if they deserve it; I did it while in federal service in 1989...but I did it in my exit interview. Because publicly saying your boss should be fired -- for selling drugs!-- is usually tantamount to submitting your resignation. This is a big Reason to abolish the State Store System: to do away with counter-intuitive foolishness like this.

This report on WHTM (ABC affiliate in Harrisburg) shows what a mountain is being made out of this molehill. This is all -- pardon the expression -- bullshit. No one mentions the key point: selling and buying a bottle of vodka is perfectly legal in Pennsylvania (as long as the person selling the bottle is a State Store System employee or an employee of one of the very few licensees that offer bottle service, and the person purchasing it is of legal age). Giving it to a legal age woman is legal, whether or not she has children of any age. To suggest otherwise is sexist, foolish, and offensive.

In summation, I'm actually neutral on this, as far as the PLCB goes. I still say that a state agency acting like a retail business is simply absurd. But I don't see this as a particularly bad example of that absurdity, like, say, the Courtesy Contract was. On the other hand, the ISSU is a great example of the kind of bizarre situation that a state retail monopoly on booze sales can generate. Kill the State Store System as a favor to the ISSU: they hate selling alcohol...let them find a new, cleaner job selling something else.

Full disclosure, as always. I have a horse in this race: I got Cathy gin for Mother's Day, and I thought of it before I heard the ads (and I'm pretty sure she won't see this before tomorrow morning). She likes gin, and there's no reason she should suffer just because I usually prefer beer and whisky. So she's getting a hand-assembled gin bouquet; I think it turned out rather well.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Video on the Hearings

In case you missed it (I did, and I'm in the damned thing!), Stephen Metzger put together a video report on the hearings, including the kick-ass moment when Representative John Taylor shouted down Major Lutz of the State Police. Check it out here.

The PLCB Hearings, Part I

By rights, I should have posted this here, but the other blog gets a lot more traffic. So rather than double-post, here's a link. This covers the testimony of Leigh Maida (of Memphis Taproom, et al) and Dominic Origlio (of Origlio Beverage), the two raided business owners. Next installment: Joe "CEO" Conti, Major Lutz of the State Police, and Artie Tafoya of Appalachian Brewing. Final installment: comments after the hearing from legislators, video, the after-party, and summation. And then...maybe some follow-up, which is sadly lacking. Until then...