Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Why Not Leave Them Closed?

We have a tremendous opportunity before us. We must not waver. We must not hesitate.

The State Stores could easily be closed by June.

Let me explain. 

I have a tremendous idea!!
By now, you all must know that Governor Wolf has declared that the State Store System of Stores is CLOSED, nominally because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Shut down as of 9 PM on St. Patrick's Day, of all inane coincidences. What's more, the PLCB's FWGS website is no longer delivering booze to your door (you know, because they never really wanted to anyway), AND the licensee "service centers" are also closed (all the bars are closed anyway, except for takeout food and beer, two things with which the PLCB is entirely uninterested).

Wow. And as I was writing this earlier, Wolf issued a proclamation (link will download a PDF of the letter) shutting down ALL licensee operations that involve selling food or drink (of any kind) for consumption on premises. Take-out/to-go is still allowed, but one wonders for how long (see below). The only exception is for hotel room service.

Note: licensee operations only. Restaurants, lunch counters, etc. that are NOT licensed are still asked to voluntarily limit operation to take-out only. Wolf is doing this under the authority of The Almighty Liquor Code: "The PLCB, upon authorization from the Governor, has the authority under the Liquor Code (47 P.S. §4-462) to mandate the closure of licensed establishments in times of emergency."

Here's what you see when you go to Ye Olde Fine Wine Et Goode Spyrites site of Web:

Reaction has been mixed. There was an insane rush to the stores, people standing in line for half an hour, as if they were Fine Bottled Water and Good Toilet Paper Shops. People say, oh, you don't need booze (idiots). Or they say, booze is as necessary as groceries and medicine, which, if you really think that, then why didn't you tell your state rep that years ago and get it out of the state's incompetent control? Eh, another missed opportunity.

Back to today. Why did the governor close the State Stores, and not close beer distributors, not close the sales rooms of wineries, distilleries, or breweries (yes, and meaderies and cideries and kvasserei)? Simply because he could, most likely, and possibly because of union pressure. Naturally enough, why is not a question that's been asked of Wolf directly. It's much more important that we do 'flatten the curve' and get this damned virus under control. Believe me, that's absolutely true. Retail operations, particularly small ones, are going to take a whupping here, and that's going to be disastrous for the economy.

But that's not what we're here to talk about. It's about the opportunity to finally put an end to the ridiculous State Store System of Stores. 

Rahm Emanuel's famous quote was about the 2008 recession. He followed the famous part with this:
"This is an opportunity, what used to be long-term problems, be they in the health care area, energy area, education area, fiscal area, tax area, regulatory reform area, things that we have postponed for too long, that were long-term, are now immediate and must be dealt with."
Are the State Stores an immediate problem? Are they one that "must be dealt with"? Of course not. I'm not a fool. No one's livelihood or survival is threatened by the continued existence of this Relic of Repeal, this Fossil of Prohibition.

But it is definitely falls under "thing that we have postponed for too long," making this is a unique opportunity to deal with it. The State Stores will be closed for at least two weeks, probably more. And the Governor, a Democratic governor, has openly admitted that the State Stores are not necessary to serve the needs of the citizens of the state. 

He did? When did he say that? In the letter to Pennsylvania businesses (dated March 14) from Wolf's Secretaries of Health, and Community and Economic Development, there is a list of descriptions of "non-essential businesses" that are asked to close. At the end of that list, there are these bullet points:
NOTE: Liquor stores will begin an orderly closure. Individuals can still buy wine and beer at grocery stores with PLCB licenses
NOTE: Restaurants should stay open for carry-out and delivery only
You see? The State Stores can close because people can still buy wine at grocery stores and restaurants. Of course they can, and they do, in huge, growing amounts.

If the State would allow grocery stores (and beer distributors, and restaurants, and deli licenses, and private clubs) to sell spirits by the bottle -- and really, why not? It's all the same alcohol! -- we could just leave the State Stores closed. Never open them again.

It's not that hard. Have an auction, sell off the inventory, and have time for new businesses to get licenses and open with former State Store employees at the register (or at the helm, why not?).

At the very least, the Legislature should immediately adjust The Almighty Liquor Code to allow licensees -- grocery stores, bars, and beer distributors to add off-premise, take-out spirits sales. End this ridiculous prejudice against spirits. Let mom pick up a bottle of Bailey's at the Giant Eagle.

And do away with the stupid cafe requirements (because...we're only doing take-out now, and the world hasn't ended), and the childish "buy four bottles and step outside the door" limit. What ridiculous bullshit is that, anyway?

We could do this. It's just waiting to happen.

"'s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before." Clearly Governor Wolf is ready.

PRIVATIZE. And if we can't do that, take the spirits monopoly away from the State Stores. The grocery stores have earned it, beer distributors have earned it by staying open during the crisis...something the State Stores weren't prepared to do. 

No comments: