Monday, July 14, 2008

Reason #10: 623 Reasons (wait, make that 596!)

There are approximately 450 liquor stores in Washington, DC, for 581,000 people, in 61 square miles.

There are 627 liquor stores listed in the Chicago phonebook, for 2,869,121 people, in 227 square miles.

There are approximately 2,500 liquor stores in New York state, covering 47,213 square miles of land.

The entire state of Pennsylvania, with a population four times that of Chicago, spread out over 44,820 square miles of land (94% the size of New York), including Philadelphia (the fifth-largest city in the country), has 623* liquor stores. [Update: as of 6/1/2013, there are now only 596 State Stores in Pennsylvania. No one will say why they've closed 27 stores in five years...but it does give me hope.]

Reason #10:

We're Seriously Under-served

This is a problem with multiple sources, and multiple effects. It comes from parsimony -- when you're paying for the stores and the employees and the transport of booze to them, you don't want too many cost centers -- it comes from patronage -- more votes, more state employment bucks in the district, and the boonies get the shaft -- but never doubt that the main reason goes back to the Two-Headed Monster: it's about "temperance."

Specifically, it comes down to "control of access." The New Drys, having officially given up on prohibition, have latched on to the idea that fewer booze stores means less drinking. As usual, I think their cause-and-effect thinking is ass-backwards: less drinking means fewer booze stores, that's just capitalism. But they have a point: if they make it as big a pain in the butt as possible to buy booze, people will probably buy less booze. (In Pennsylvania, anyway: there's a reason you see so many PA plates in the parking lots at Delaware and New Jersey booze stores.)

After all, when it comes right down to it, you don't need that many booze stores. The State's got it all figured out, just how many stores is enough...and, obviously, exactly what you need in those stores. Amazing, really, how the market has figured out a completely different number in New York, 4 times as many, but that's the mind power of the PLCB for you. You only need to buy so much booze, so you only need so many stores.

You know, they're right, to a certain extent. I have way more booze than I need. It's because when I get out of State -- "out of Control," as Carolyn so brilliantly put it -- I see stuff I can't get at home (or don't find because the organization and signage is so pathetic) and I buy it. Now...that's probably booze I didn't need. But you know, I don't need 30 different kinds of cheese either, or five different kinds of bacon, or (God help me) 45 different kinds of mustard. But there's no pack of ying-yangs in Harrisburg making that decision for me, and there's no group of commissars on the Susquehanna deciding that Bucks County only needs ten supermarkets.

Why is there one for booze stores?

The PLCB should be abolished because the number of State Stores in Pennsylvania -- as set by the PLCB -- follows no logic, no rhyme or reason, no market demand or niche. It is simply a decision, an arbitrary is much of the Pennsylvania Liquor Code. There is no need for the PLCB -- the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board -- to set limits like this. There is no legislation to limit numbers of gun shops, gas stations, fast food outlets, pet stores, tanning parlors, or supermarkets. Why are there limits on the number of booze stores, who sets those limits, and what arcane formulae do they use to determine them? I suspect the answers to those questions are "Just 'cuz," "us," and "that's all you need." I strongly suspect that.

I don't need a booze store on every corner, to be sure. But I also don't need a State bureaucracy telling me just how many they think I do need, especially when it's a number that's obviously out of whack with the rest of the Union.

*It may be a few more or less: the PLCB has been opening and closing stores recently in some mad rationalizing process. Needless to say, there is no apparent pattern to these openings and closings.


Anonymous said...

Nice take, Lew!!!! One of the arguments you'll hear from the PLCB is that they go out of their way to serve underdeveloped parts of the
state, and many times I've heard that rationale applied to the small, part-time store in Snow Shoe, here in Centre County. To be honest, I don't think Snow Shoe (pop. 785) needs a liquor store at all, but I could sure use one here in State College (currently four stores) that has a decent selection of American whiskeys.

I just walked into my "Premium Selection Store" yesterday, and the
bourbon selection, I swear, is smaller than last month. The same can't be said for vodka, however. It has a wall filled with the latest trendy flavors, many of which will be on the closeout shelf in six months.

When you started this blog, I was, for the most part, satisfied with
what I was getting from the PLCB. Now I'm convinced there IS some sort of a conspiracy here, and I dislike them more BY THE DAY.

Rich said...

Hey Lew...sorry this is off-topic, but I came up with a reason FOR. FREE BOXES! If you happen to be moving the state stores will give you free boxes. I'm sure private industry could fill the same need just as easily, but I thought I'd share. LOL!

Lew Bryson said...

Aw, that's not off-topic, Rich. That's one of the very best reasons I've ever heard for keeping the PLCB.

Anonymous said...

It's even more ironic here in State College, where the town continually bitches about underage and/or binge drinking. Then, during student move out, there's a run on booze boxes to the point where the state store puts a sign on the door: "No boxes."

Lauren said...

I typed in on a whim, thinking it would take me to a site where I could try to find a wine I've been looking for, and I didn't have high hopes, because it's impossible to get anything you really want in Pennsylvania. You go to the local liquor store and there is a selection there that is so much less than what it could be. And all the prices are jacked up, and forget finding a decent bottle of wine for 5 or 6 bucks, you have to go to Jersey for that.

It is EXTREMELY annoying that in this day and age you can't order something that you want on the internet. WHY??

I just don't understand. I want to spend money, I want to support the economy, I want to buy a bottle of wine, why do they want to block sales? The whole thing STINKS.

Some people argue that money that the PLCB goes to some sort of helpful community undertakings. Well, why don't you just let freedom ring, let people compete, let people buy what they want to buy, wouldn't the increased sales because of more competition and more selection outweight the jacked up prices you have at so few stores across the state?

It seems like the vast majority of people in this state want the PLCB to dissappear, so how come no one listens to the people?

Anyway, thanks for all your posts, I have been reading through a lot of them and learning a lot. Great trick with the URL, I definitely expected to tear my hair out on the actual site trying to find that wine that I'm looking for.