Friday, April 4, 2014

30 years of progress – You’re kidding right?

The PLCB's "Store in a store" modernization idea: 
the Future through (the failures of) the Past

In the early 1980s the PLCB first came up with the idea of putting a State Store inside a real regular store. Boscov’s in Wilkes Barre and Joseph Horne Co., Pittsburgh were the two selected. It didn’t last as the Wilkes-Barre Store closed in late 1991 and the Pittsburgh one in 1993.

However, like most bad ideas that occur to the PLCB, the concept wouldn’t die, and on December 23, 2003 the PLCB started the first State Store inside a grocery store as part of the “modernization” of that time. Some of them are still around. The PLCB has managed to place about 16 stores within stores in over ten years of trying to convince grocery store owners of the value of this concept (and kept them in longer than the wine kiosks, but that's not saying much).

So here we are, 30 years after the original concept, ten years after the second attempt...and this kludgey idea is part of the PLCB's “modernization” plan. Thousands of grocery and retail stores ain’t buying it, and after 30 years of trying, at the rate the PLCB is getting stores in stores, it will take over 110 years to get up to just 10% of the state stores being 'more convenient' (unless they close more stores as they have been, that will make 10% easier to hit!), if you define 'convenient' as being able to walk into a different store and make a separate purchase.

Einstein's widely misquoted as saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. No matter who actually said it -- and we know there aren’t any Einsteins at the PLCB -- the core is solid. That's what makes the latest 'modernization' idea from Representative Gene DiGirolamo to put 400 square ft. State Stores in grocery stores...a little nuts. But his plan is endorsed by the clerks union (even if the plan essentially is a wine kiosk without the automation, though there will still be a PLCB employee there to make the sales, just like there was when the wine kiosks didn't work). This goes to show how out of touch the PLCB really is.While national trends in alcohol retail are toward larger stores, the brain trust at the PLCB wants to do the opposite. Must be that lack of retail experience, or maybe the fact that they know we can't go anywhere else that lets them make these bad decisions.

Kind of what the store in a store would look like...minus the video.
I was told by a clerk that larger towns will have more selection and that little towns will have less selection and all I could think of is that a little selection in a little town beats NO selection in a little town.  With only 600 stores there are a whole lot of little towns without a state store and there are entire counties in PA with only one state store but but they have a number grocery stores.

However...remember that the PLCB and the Union threaten that if the State's monopoly were broken up and privatized, you will only see one aisle with only the most popular items in grocery stores and they won’t have the full selection of a State Store. Now I have to ask: if one side of a 50’ (which is short for a grocery store) 4 shelf aisle is a minimum of 300 square ft and you don’t have to have room for a cashier or baskets or office or is this "store in a store" going to provide any better selection? And you still can’t buy a case or a sixpack of beer there, so the three trip problem (that ONLY Pennsylvania has) is still there. Maybe they think that 2 1/2 trips are an improvement: go to the PLCB store in a store (with separate checkout), walk to a different part of the store to the 'cafe' to buy a sixpack (with a separate checkout), and then drive to the beer distributor to get a case. Such an improvement!

Here's a thought. How about we privatize the whole damn system and make it truly easier for the consumer by having just one place to go when shopping for a legal product? How about we get the state out of subsidizing the sale of alcohol like they do milk? How about if we take the totally unqualified board out of retail, since they know nothing about it anyway (none has any experience in retail and that has been true for decades) and turn it over to people who do know retail business i.e. private businesses? How about if we allow the people the freedom of choice that most citizens who don’t live in Utah or PA enjoy? If you are a legislator, how can you not want this for your constituents?

Real Modernization IS Privatization!


Albert Brooks said...

I found this just minutes after posting. Looks like other people don't like the store in a store concept even when those stores are FIVE TIMES as large as what PA is proposing.

Anonymous said...

A partial privatization plan will entrench the PLCB more than DiGirolamo's garbage. The real threat is in the senate.

Lew Bryson said...

Agreed. Partial privatization will NOT lead to further privatization; it will lead to more avoidance. It's a lie that the Senate is considering to keep the union sweet. And donating.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. Real privatization has been dead since the House sent their messed up bill to the Senate to die. They might as well debate the alternative plans and make what we have more profitable and a little more convenient for time. Better than nothing. The taxpayer will benefit for now and a more profitable system will insure the lobbying money will pour in even greater amounts the next time private business sees a chance to do this.The Senate plan will only be an illusion that looks like privatization and delay the real thing. Might be four to eight years or more but their wil be another GOP Governor someday, and he will have his hand out!

Anonymous said...

You need to do a little more research before you mis-inform here. The very first specialty store in the state was the one located on the 3rd floor of Joseph Horne's Dept. store in Downtown Pittsburgh. It did NOT close after 5 years. It opened in 1980 and moved out of Horne's in 1993 & relocated to Oxford Centre with it's own sidewalk entrance. Expansion of specialty stores in suburban Pittsburgh did change what was carried in the former Horne's store to include more of the standard items but originally the Horne's store was strictly "specialty". I know because I was the asst. mgr. and wine buyer from 1982...1993.

Albert Brooks said...

Thank you for the info about the first specialty store. I've never seen that published before and it isn't listed in the PLCB history.

I know that in 2001 there sere 20 specialty stores (I have that from the PLCB) so you are saying that in 21 years they only opened 20 specialty stores?

Having looked into it further you are correct, my information was wrong. Thank you for pointing it out and I will correct the story.

Anonymous said...

It seems privatization is worse off this year than last. It is now mid April and which only gives 2.5 months before both the House and Senate adjourn for the Summer. Tick tock.

Lew Bryson said...

Hey, if McIlhinney doesn't call for more time-wasting "hearings," that's PLENTY of time. Especially now that some lobbying groups are finally stepping into this.