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On a recent visit to a Giant Food Store in Exeter Township, a suburb of Reading, Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley of Pennsylvania said that privatizing alcohol sales in the state would give residents “the same convenience and selection as virtually every other American has today.” Pennsylvania and Utah are the only two states that control alcohol sales.
“We should be able to pick up beer or a bottle of wine in the same place we buy groceries,” continued Crawley. “Giant customers can do it in Maryland and Virginia. Why not in Reading?”
Late last month, Gov. Tom Corbett unveiled a proposal to close the state stores and put liquor licenses up for auction. Corbett’s proposal would allow grocery stores and pharmacies to sell up to a 12-pack of beer and up to six bottles of wine; big-box retailers such as Target, Walmart and Costco to sell beer by the case and up to six bottles of wine; and convenience stores to sell beer by the 6-pack.
Additionally, beer distributors would no longer be limited to selling beer by the case and could also sell wine. Further, they would be able to bid on licenses to sell spirits, making them one-stop-shops for all alcohol.
“My plan gets the state completely out of the liquor business,” noted Corbett. “The state will no longer be a marketer of alcohol; instead, it will now focus on its role as a regulator. It also creates an unprecedented opportunity for economic expansion for private-sector employers while remaining revenue-neutral for the state.”
There are currently about 600 state stores in Pennsylvania; Corbett’s plan allows for 1,200 wine and spirits stores.
The proposal has proved controversial, however, with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union calling it a “cynical ploy” to boost his poll numbers that would put 5,000 Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) workers out of work and shut down more than 1,000 family-owned distributors.
Wendell W. Young IV, president of Harrisburg-based UFCW Local 1776, said the union would continue to back such modernization proposals for the PLCB as expanded Sunday hours, the addition of more stores, permitting the direct shipment of wine to consumers’ homes, and more flexibility for procurement and personnel. Young noted that the PLCB generates almost $600 million annually for Pennsylvania in taxes and profits, and that the various modernization proposals would generate at least $75 million more annually for the state.
On the other hand, retailers like Altoona-based convenience store chain Sheetz have applauded Corbett’s efforts.
“We have been lobbying for adult beverage sales reform for a long time,” said Louie Sheetz, EVP, marketing. “Allowing the private sector to manage the sale of alcoholic beverages is long overdue.”
Although he noted that the plan in its current form was “considerably restrictive with quantity limits, and licenses, by requiring annual renewal, would be too expensive,” Sheetz expressed the hope that Corbett would “consider modifying some of the measures so that it makes better economic sense for us and other retailers.”
And a recent poll of registered voters in the state found that 61 percent support privatization, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.