Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Reason #7: One Problem, Everyone's Problem

Take a look at this story. The PLCB's special order system broke down, and restaurants and taverns have been unable to place weekly booze orders. That specific problem is bad enough, but what makes it worse is the universality of it.

Reason #7:

A Monopoly of Errors

When the PLCB screws something up, it's screwed up for everyone, across the Commonwealth.

When the PLCB "de-lists" something, no one can get it any more.

When the PLCB puts something on "special order" status, that's how everyone has to get it.

When your local State Store has a great set of clerks (or just one real gem), you're well-off; but if it is staffed by wine-ignorant drones, you're simply screwed.

All of these are true because we have no choice. None. The PLCB State Stores are the only legal choice for booze purchases for every Pennsylvania licensee, and unless a citizen goes outside the state to drink, or purchases booze out of state and then drinks it out of state, everything we drink in the way of spirits and wine (excepting always Pennsylvania wines, which may be bought at the vineyard or the vineyard's stores) must come from the State Stores.

If a tavern-owner in some other state is disappointed in the service he gets from his supplier, well, he either gives them specific hell and expects results, or he changes suppliers. If a restaurant owner in some other state wishes to drop a load of bucks to amplify his wine cellar, he can bid on collections at auction. If either one is in Pennsylvania? Forget it. You're dealing with the PLCB, and you cannot switch suppliers, nor can you buy wine from private sources, because the PLCB is a state-owned and state-regulated monopoly, and if you try to get around that monopoly, not only will you find that it's hard to do, it's illegal, and you stand a very good chance of losing your license, your business, and your personal freedom.

Now, there will be those who say, "Exactly. It's the law, and you knew that when you bought the license. Why are you complaining now?" Did you read this? Do you really think it's right that when this sole-source supplier screws up, you have no recourse? That would seem to be a basic right of businesspeople.

The PLCB should be abolished because it is a monopoly, and leaves tavern/restaurant operators, and private citizens, no choices in what is supposed to be a free market economy. We have choices in food purchases, choices in gasoline, in churches, in clothing, in insurance, in banks, even in which hospital emergency room we are taken to...but if the PLCB stops carrying something -- Elijah Craig 12 Year Old bourbon, for instance, a delicious award-winner and a personal favorite -- or puts it on special order status -- Cycles Gladiator Cabernet Sauvignon, for instance, a former special that was quite nice at $10, but is now a 12-bottle minimum order -- that is how it goes and you have no other choice. You cannot walk down the street or drive to the next town: you're hosed across the Commonwealth.

All because Repeal seemed like a bad idea, and because keeping the profits from selling booze seems like such a good one, public good and taxpayer convenience be damned.


Anonymous said...

This is one more way beer drinkers are better off than wine drinkers in Pennsylvania.

For Philly Beer Week this year, a number of breweries got special import licenses to bring in beers that had never been distributed in Philly before. (My favorite was the Bell's Lager of the Lakes).

I'm sure this was some amount of bureaucratic hassle as it is...but can you imaging trying to do the same thing for wine? Would it even be possible?

Jay said...

Is the PLCB getting rid of the EC 12yo 1.75s now too???

I just stocked up on Old Forrester 1.75s for $16 a pop.

Lew Bryson said...


According to a friend of mine at Heaven Hill, the PLCB is not carrying Elijah Craig at all any more. Thanks, guys!

Jay said...

son of a crap! SLO... BOOO!!®ular=on&slo=on&specialty=on&searchCode=&psiSB=brnd&psiSD=ASC&submit=SEARCH

Harry Spade said...

Lew, after reading this I'm curious about something. How does a place like Union Barrel Works obtain their local wine? Currently their online menu lists Kog Hill and Glades Pikes. Do they get them through the PLCB, or is there another rule/law/exemption at work here?

Regardless, this monopoly argument is a strong one and seems to be one more example of why Pennsylvania does not have a healthy business environment.


Lew Bryson said...

I believe PA brewpubs are allowed to buy PA wine direct from the winery. This would seem to be in violation of the Granholm decision, but I'm not complaining.

Anonymous said...

I communicated with my very attentive contact at the PLCB today, and I have been told that they have not delisted Elijah Craig in the 1.75. They did tell me that the product has been on back order for some time and is in short supply because of that situation. That's all I know on this subject, and that's from the horse's mouth.

As regards PA wine in PA brewpubs, our brewpubs are permitted to buy direct from PA wineries, and is the only other alcohol they may sell. I'm wondering, though, about the potential for PA distilled spirits to be treated in the same way. Why not Bluecoat martinis and G&Ts? With the impending openings of Pennsylvania Pure Distilleries in Pittsburgh (local potato-based vodka) and Keystone Distilling in Media (vodka and maybe whiskey), there could be more potential for promoting PA distilled spirits across the commonwealth. Yeah, I know, I'm NOT holding my breath!

Lew Bryson said...

As I said, I got that from Heaven Hill. The PLCB catalog is showing 1.75s of EC 12 YO (at a sale price of $30, too) as a "regular" item, so...
But if it's listed but not on the shelf?

Anonymous said...

Sam K: If PA Brewpubs can only have local wine and brewed-on-site beer, how does Triumph have a full bar? Do they have 2 (or more) licenses?

This does explain why Dock Street has only beer and Chaddsford wines available.

Lew Bryson said...

Yes, two different licenses. Brewpubs in PA were originally only allowed to have a brewpub license: beer brewed on premises only. That was changed -- I think in the late 1990s, but I'm not sure -- to allow brewpubs to also sell PA wines (which would seem to be in violation of Granholm, but maybe not), and to allow them to purchase a full liquor license. Which Triumph and Iron Hill, among others, have.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog. I'd be willing to tolerate the state monopoly if only it were well-run and convenient to purchase from, but the ironic truth is that is will probably be easier to get across legislation to demolish the LCB entirely than to force internal reforms.

Anonymous said...

This is the main reason, everything else they do wrong flows from it. If the PLCB was a private company, it would be an illegal monopoly.