Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Why Didn't I Ever Ask?

It just hit me like a ton of bricks.

If Pennsylvania's State Store System is as wonderful as PJ and Joe "CEO" say it is...

How come you never see out-of-state plates in the parking lots?

It's like the Worker's Paradise. The Berlin Wall wasn't put up to keep people out of East Germany...

I'll grant, you may see some NJ plates in stores close to the Delaware River. But I'll betcha it's more about people ducking NJ auto insurance rates than it is about visiting the wonderful State Store System.

Still...if you see an out-of-state plate in a State Store System parking lot, and you can get a picture that clearly shows the plate and the store, send it. I dare ya.


Bill said...

Well, you will see them, as people come to PA for reasons other than buying booze, and might want to buy booze while they're there.

Lew Bryson said...

You're guessing, right?

You might see them around college campuses, too: they don't have the choice. But otherwise, I'll bet they don't buy booze here more than once. And I'm almost certain that they're not coming here to buy it, like PA people go to other states.

Anonymous said...

"You're guessing, right?" 99% of the time I'm in a state not my own, I'm there for a reason that isn't alcohol-related. But while I'm there, I might want to buy alcohol. If I were in PA, I'd be at one of these stores.

Doesn't mean the main point of your post is wrong... but if folks cared, they could get lots of photos on non-PA cars at these stores to you.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, when i travel to other states i don't plan the trip around their liquor system. nor do i find it really that important! The people who go outta state to get their liquor to save a few bucks probably waste it on the gas getting there anyway,and really while some stores may have some good buys its likely you will always find a better price or new item in some other state whether its pa or somewhere else. No state carrys every product!

Lew Bryson said...

Latest Anony: I'm not really interested in the people who are buying out of state to save money. You can, if you know what you're buying and you're buying in bulk, but just picking up a few bottles? Not worth it. (But isn't it too bad they have to waste their gas to get better prices? If PA was private, they could get the better prices here, eh?)

I DO travel out of state for the selection, regularly. PLCB-generated horsecrap aside, it's very easy to find a better selection (AND better service) out of state. And that's the kind of customer I am: I don't want the same bottle of Jack Daniel's every time. I want something different, and I'm willing to pay for it.

"No state carries every product!" MOST "states" don't carry the products. They wisely leave that up to private stores.

Anonymous said...

Well gee lew, guess I should have said state or private retailer carries every product. I was just trying to say if I go to any store in another state it is likely i will always find something in there i like, even in my store here which carries alot of items, i usually find something i like. I think you just are not going to get every item you ever wanted even if they where private nobody can get that much merchandise, and on that better service thing if ya treat people how you wanta be treated it goes along way! the people in the store I go to are very friendly !

Lew Bryson said...

Don't get tetchy, it makes you sound like a PLCB clerk.

I usually find something interesting in stores out of PA, but if I'm looking for American whiskey in a PA store? Same old, same old, except lately it's been less and less. Wine? Sure there's...something, but I want more than just "something." And if we had private stores, we would, because they'd be competing with each other to have better selection and prices. The State Stores don't compete with anyone -- they don't even compete with out of state stores, according to His Wisdom The CEO, because the SSS is so much better.

And this?

"and on that better service thing if ya treat people how you wanta be treated it goes along way! the people in the store I go to are very friendly !"

You assume much. I do treat them the way I want to be treated: I'm polite, I am friendly, I assume that they're as excited about the products as I am. 9 times out of 10, it's a failure. It's funny: I usually get great service from the floor staff in out-of-state stores, and a dim gum-chewer at the register. In the SSS, the floor staff are sullen, mute, and can't be bothered, while the folks at the registers are -- as I've said many times -- competent, friendly, and reasonably quick. Wonder why that is.

Anonymous said...

I guess i don't share your passion for liquor. why would you assume they should be as excited about the products like you are.Do you expect that of the grocery clerk , postman .It's a job! I work constuction i don't get excited on every building we put up. Maybe the floor staff deal with rude customers i don't know, maybe discribing a person as a dim gum chewer has something to do with it.I just adjust to the state im in at the time and treat people with respect, you are no more or less important then that clerk you called a dim gum chewer from the other state

Anonymous said...

Uh, Lew, I actually worked in a Poconos store fro a while and the Jerzzee people routinely filled up carts asking me why everything was so cheap. I'm sorry the state store system is making you such a bitter, angry person. If I were you, I'd move to Ohio or something, but you'd probably bitch about their lottery system or something. Lighten up, ok?

Lew Bryson said...

Finally...I'm getting the kind of stuff that always happens when there's a PLCB-related call-in show!

First, in any kind of retailer's mind, I AM important: I'm the customer. Doesn't matter what my name is, I'm the most important person in the store... Oh. Unless it's a state-run monopoly, in which case it doesn't really matter.

Second, I'm not going to spar with you over whether I'm nice to the staff. I can never prove it, and you'll never believe it.'s not about the price. I don't know how many times I have to say that. It's the selection, it's the service, and it's the simple fact that there is no good reason for the State to run retail wine and liquor sales.

Anonymous said...

Just curious on what your position was on leasing/selling/privatizing the Pa turnpike?

Lew Bryson said...

I was against it for a variety of reasons, since you ask. I am, however, completely in favor of doing away with the Turnpike Commission and putting the TP in with all of PA's other state road under the Dept. of Transportation.

I don't know that there's a lot of comparison, though, as I don't know of any state or country where the roads are all private enterprises. Do you?

Anonymous said...

I never get that I AM THE CUSTOMER THING I AM THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN THE STORE! In my visits to my liquor store i have heard myself some of the rude and insulting things the customers say to the clerks during the last few months with the training ect. it 's not their fault yet they take the flack and Don't say cause we pay their salary we can abuse them.This one guy in was real bad on the lady clerk ! probably any private guy would't have take such abuse from a customer! I know if it was my store i would have threw him out on his butt!

Lew Bryson said...


In "private" retail -- which is to say, normal retail -- the customer is the most important person in the store for a very simple to understand reason: if there are no customers, there is no store, there are no jobs, because the customers have gone to another store (for better selection, better service, etc.)

At the State Store System, you don't have to worry about the customers because they don't have other stores to go to. State law requires them to buy any booze they may want at the State Stores.

A bedrock reason why the PLCB should be abolished. Thanks!

BTW: I've never, in 29 years, heard anyone insult a State Store System clerk to their face. Not once. That would be rude, unacceptable, and something I would never encourage. The thing to do is to ask to see the manager and make as dispassionate a complaint as possible.

I took abuse as a private beer store clerk back in the 1990s, though, and both times I smiled, and asked the customer what I could do to make things right. And I hadn't even had any training (from my boss's spouse's company, or anywhere else...)!

sam k said...

Hey Anony...ever hear the motto "The customer is always right?" Maybe only 10,000 times. You're arguing against the most basic concept in retailing. Seems like a losing battle from the start.

I agree with Lew about the selection, or lack thereof in PA. Like him, my focus is on American whiskeys. I was in Chicago recently (for WhiskyFest, BTW, an experience that should be on the bucket list of anyone who enjoys brown spirits) and visited a couple of liquor stores.

Both times, more than one employee asked me if I needed any help. When I did have a question, they were extremely knowledgeable about the selection, and it was obvious their expertise wasn't limited to bourbon and rye. They even had the ability to give me an idea of what characteristics the product in question possessed, making it obvious to me that they had ACTUALLY TASTED THE STUFF!

I challenge you to enter ANY sizable state liquor store in PA and walk around looking at the selection for 30 minutes. NO ONE will approach you to ask if you need help. No one. Ever. I've done it. In more than one store.

Ask someone stocking the shelves for help, and you'll most likely get a deer-in-the-headlights look, and pretty much all they can do is point you to where the bottle might be located. They've probably never tasted the spirit in question, so asking about that is pointless, too.

The selection of American whiskeys within the state store system has been shrinking for years, with few replacement brands appearing in the meantime. Right now it's absolutely lousy. Some American distilleries aren't represented by even one whiskey. I've contacted the PLCB about this, and they have a strange formula for calculating the performance of a particular brand or package, and if it doesn't meet their percentages, it's gone. So much for the specialty market!

The ignorant bastards even had the audacity to discontinue Old Overholt in 2008. I contacted them to ask why they were killing the brand in its home state just two years prior to its 200th birthday. To their credit, they brought it back. More proof they really don't have a clue.

God forbid you even ACT like you enjoy your job in a retail location, dealing with the public (good and bad) all day. Yeah, I hate my job, and I'm gonna let you know it. I was in construction for 17 years, and even though I didn't make it to work in the best of moods on a daily basis, I sure didn't make the customer feel like they were imposing on me. THEY SIGNED MY CHECK.

And bullshit, people do not come to PA to buy booze. Since you're so confident, I'm looking forward to your sending in "lots of photos on non-PA cars at these stores."

Lew is anxious to post them all.

Anonymous said...

BOY,you guys are a little fired up about your booze, first for those anonymous guys that customer is always right thing has always been the standard( even tho the person who thought of it never probably had to deal with them)!and i do agree that you should just adjust to the state you in , booze is not that important! Next is for lew and sam , lew why would anyone even consider wasting time taken pictures of cars in a parking lot,and sam why would anybody really need to know the characteristics of booze ?WHO CARES! you 2 guys have a passion for spirits that probably is close to those people that do the same for wine!,and you expect everybody that you deal with in the stores retail or private to share your passion you guys are coming across as people who take liquor way to seriously! IT'S JUST BOOZE IT'S NOT LIFE ANY DEATH THAT YOU NEED TO COMPLAIN ABOUT THE NUMBER OF AMERICAN WHISKEYS THAT ARE AVAILABLE! I am beginning to think that you wouldn't be happy even if as the one person said you did move to a wide open state.

Lew Bryson said...

Saw that one coming; there's one of you in every crowd. Although looking at the way all these "Anonymous" posters seem to typethe SAME!like this , ...maybe there isn't a crowd at all.

If this isn't something you're passionate about, why bother responding? To let us know you don't care? See, that doesn't ring true. If you don't care, how did you even wind up at this blog, which doesn't get that many hits a day?

If Sam and I were passionate about whiskey in another state, like Delaware, for instance, we'd have somewhere to go: Total Wine & Spirits, or State Line Liquors. They know there are people like us, and they have built their inventory to attract us -- and make money off us. We would go there, and everyone would be happy. Instead, by law we're required to go to the State Stores, where we're not happy with the selection, and the employees don't care. No one is happy. Doesn't that strike you as a less than ideal situation?

In short, why do YOU care so much? If you don't really care about how you buy booze, why NOT change things? After all, "you should just adjust to the state you in , booze is not that important!"

Answer me that.

sam k said...

I'm sorry. You're right, we have no business being passionate about something. I apologize. I'll be happy with Ten High from now on. Or maybe that sweet tea vodka Lew just reviewed on his other site.

I'm positive the PLCB will be adding that soon, anyway. It's vodka.

CigarShrink said...

Most people like to have flat-screen TV's, fancy cell phones, and stylish clothes. Good for them. Me, I like good cigars and booze. I don't really understand why people enjoy flat-screens, and most people don't understand why I enjoy George Dickel Barrel Select. That's the way it should be. Keeps the world interesting.

I don't expect the staff at PA state liquor stores to be as knowledgeable and enthusiastic as I am about liquor. It only stands to reason, however, that if you're retailing a product, you should have some minimal knowledge about it. Hell, if you're spending all day in a liquor store, you'd think you might learn a bit just because you're bored and there's nothing else to do.

Here's the very least I expect, however. If I ask you if you carry a particular product, don't look at me as if I just asked if I could have sex with a dead raccoon in the parking lot.

That said, even if the state system all of a sudden started carrying a great selection at the lowest prices imaginable and the clerks all became experts...I would still be for privatization. It's not just that the state does a lousy job, it's more important than that. It's that the state shouldn't be doing the job at all.

Lew Bryson said...

Thank you, CS, well-put. You can come by and comment any time, and I hope you do.

Bill said...

Just wanted to point that somehow i became the "first" anonymous post here -- must have clicked the wrong radio button -- and am not any of the rest.

Sam K -- I live hundreds of miles away, can't provide photos! I'm just saying that, while people may not come to PA to buy booze, they do come to PA for business, family, tourism, etc., and sooner or later those cars will be parked at a state store because the driver or passenger wants to buy booze. So Lew's dare is doomed to fail if folks were determined to take him up on it. Again, doesn't mean his position is wrong, just means his challenge doesn't prove or disprove it.

Lew -- why keep the Anonymous feature for posts?

Lew Bryson said...

It's true, Bill: after all, I've bought booze at -- and parked in front of -- LCBO stores in Ontario, and they would hardly have been my first choice. They look like the PLCB's kissing cousins. I just want to stir things up.

The Anonymous thing: I don't want to get in the way of anyone posting a comment. If they're really rude, I'll choose not to post them.

sam k said...

Good points, Bill. Thanks for the feedback.

Anonymous said...

Bill, people from out of state might buy from PLCB stores while in PA for vacation or business (they don't, but I'll get to that in a minute), but you're missing Lew's point.

Lew was pointing out that if the State stores were as good as the PLCB says they were, you'd see people from nearby states taking quick trips over the border to shop at PLCB stores for a combination of wide selection, good service and low prices. Instead, you see the opposite: Pennsylvanians running over to Delaware and elsewhere to get their booze.

But, to answer your question, no, out of staters don't visit our liquor stores much. They don't, even though you'd think they would, given the prevalence of excellent restaurants in Philly and elsewhere that don't have liquor licenses (called BYO's).

That ought to be damning evidence enough against the PLCB: it is so much of a hassle and an expense to get a license get your beverages from the PLCB that many restauranteurs (and their financial bankers) are willing to forego the high profit margins of drink sales to avoid it.

But even then, you'd think that popular restaurant districts in Philadelphia would have a number of small wine outlets where tourists who didn't have a wine rack at home could pick up a bottle on their way to dinner. Instead, you have liquor stores concentrated in the poorer areas of town, with one or two actually somewhere near the waterfront.

Elsewhere around the state, it is as bad. The PLCB is unwilling to spring for prime downtown real estate for its stores anywhere--since its customers are captives by law--so there are no liquor stores near hotels, resorts, train stations, anything.

Proactive visitors, who ask where to find a liquor store, get quickly discouraged when they find out how hard it is to get there, and how byzantine and absurd the blue laws in PA are, and usually end up doing without. "Oh, you want wine to go with dinner? Well, you can go to the liquor store at such-and-such a place, but you'd better bring a wine a guide and know what you plan on making because the clerks there aren't allowed to recommend anything and can't tell you what would pair well with what."

You think that the PLCB cannot possibly be as bad as I, Lew, and the other make out, but speaking as someone that came of age in Indiana (the CVS's there have single malt scotch) and moved back home to PA after college, I have to say: it is worse. Worse than rational thought can possibly comprehend.