Friday, March 20, 2020

Why Is The PLCB Lowering Spirits Instead of Selling Them?

The PLCB shut down the State Store System of Stores because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are the ONLY control state to do so (other than Utah, temporarily, because of an earthquake that happened concurrently). Liquor stores remain open in other states (because a lot of them sell booze in grocery stores, you know, like normal people do); beer distributors were literally classified as "life essential" by Governor Wolf in yesterday's shut-down-the-state order; and of course, as we pointed out recently, we were told by the state that we didn't need the State Store System of Stores because "Individuals can still buy wine and beer at grocery stores with PLCB licenses."
We have encouraged the State to leave the stores closed. The Distilled Spirits Council of the US and American Distilled Spirits Association has pointed out that the current instruction leaves the citizens unable to buy spirits (a completely legal product in Pennsylvania and the United States), and suggested the state at least temporarily allow the sale of spirits at the grocery stores and beer distributors that remain open...somewhat heroically, and I'm not kidding about that.
Allentown (the sawdust is a nice touch)
I've been talking to wine and spirits wholesalers who work with the PLCB to supply their warehouses. They're ready, willing, and able to supply spirits to the grocery stores, convenience stores, and beer distributors that are already open and selling. What's more, they're also ready to supply the restaurants and bars who are eager to do take-out beer and wine and spirits sales, just to keep their people employed, to literally keep their businesses from failing. Not closing temporarily: failing. The wholesalers know that they can find drivers to do the work. The PLCB has said they could do this (click the link, and scroll down to the 7th paragraph), but have never shown a bit of initiative toward action on it.
Has there been any indication that the PLCB is even considering any of this? At least the legislature has decided to come back to work remotely and get something done, but you have to believe this isn't going to be high on their list -- and I'm not suggesting it should be. But as we saw when the Board decided that it could simply "interpret" the hated Case Law right out of existence by declaring a six-pack to equal a case, the courts give the PLCB very broad latitude indeed on "interpretation" of The Almighty Liquor Code (had we mentioned that the PLCB has its own courts?). They could easily rule on all of this stuff, and let the Legislature catch up.
Also Philly
No. The Board, the Governor, the Department of Community and Economic Development have done nothing about this, none of the really easy steps that would take some of the stress off businesses, and extend some fairness to the folks in the spirits production chain (who also need gainful employment), and let those of us who might want a whiskey sour or Bloody Mary (or quarantini, which is apparently a thing) buy a bottle or two.

What are they doing?

In a state where the last large scale riots were over fifty years ago, the PLCB decided to raise public morale with this amazing display of optimistic trust. Because nothing says "it may be rough, but we're going to get through this together" like boarding up your Williamsport. 

This lack of leadership, lack of understanding, lack of common good sense is just another example of what an awful mistake having this all-too-independent state agency in charge of retail stores has been. The Legislature should, in the spare ten minutes it would take, use this opportunity to say, 'Okay, that's enough. You had your chance, more than enough chances, and that's it. Game over, PLCB. You're done.'

Even better? It really would only take ten minutes. The Legislature actually drew up plans back in 1987 to end the State Store System of Stores and those plans, never enacted, are still available online in the Pennsylvania Code...ready to roll.

Here's the plan; your predecessors already did the work for you. Literally all you should have to do is change the dates and vote.

Because all the PLCB is going to do in this crisis is protect themselves. Apparently they think Pennsylvania is France. We deserve a lot better than this.


Bob said...

Great post Lew, though depressing. Where I am (Maine, another control state), the liquor stores are still open, at least as of today. They sell beer and wine too (sorry to rub it in!!)...stores here are licensed through the state but are privately owned. Up until about 10-15 years ago the state owned and ran them directly as "agency stores". I can't recall whether they sold wine and beer then. Now stores are still at the mercy of the state liquor board and can only sell what the board tells them to and what gets to distributors. Upside is prices are uniform all over and not too unreasonable, downside is lack of choice and any allocated stuff is real thin on the ground, unless a store is able to wangle something with a distributor (trying to figure out how they do that).
Next door in New Hampshire the stores are state-owned/operated like in PA but they're still open, with limited hours. Their web site says they're an essential business, YAY!! -- so what is the deal with PA?!! (I think your blog answers that question very nicely and succinctly, keep up the good work!)

Anonymous said...

This situation is mind boggling. My brother in law just bought three cases of beer from the beer distributor. I guess that is considered essential, even though you can buy “wine and beer” at the grocery store. It is so obvious the entity that is pulling the strings. My husband and I didn’t think to stockpile before the Governor decided to close all stores and who knows for how long. We don’t drink much beer, but do like a Manhattan or whiskey here and there. Now we are rationing our Italian vermouth, bourbon, whiskey, and gin ( my husband enjoys that on the weekends ). People we know from other states are dumbfounded by this situation in PA. In this stressful time it is so nice to have a drink and relax a bit.
I agree completely that PA should open the door for restaurants and grocery stores to sell spirits, even if in limited quantities. We can’t go to the restaurants which we love to do, but at least we can support them if the idiotic state will allow us to.
This monopoly has to stop.
I’ll do what I can.