Monday, March 25, 2013
It's time for Pennsylvania to get out of the liquor business
The year is 1994. The place is somewhere in Chester County, Pa. I was in Pennsylvania for the first time, looking for a place to live. Moving all the way from Texas to the Keystone State was going to be an experience I’d never forget, and one that would shape my life in ways only now imaginable, but I’ll save that for another column. I had spent a busy day looking for an apartment in and around West Chester. There are a lot of options, and I like to be thorough, so I had probably been to about 10 different complexes that day. One place in particular caught my fancy and I decided to sign on the dotted line. Sharples Works was converted from an old dairy. There are giant wooden beams running through the apartments that give them character well beyond what you find in most of your cookie-cutter complexes. Feeling rather good about finally making my decision I decided to celebrate with a cold beer. I was traveling along 202 South headed back to my hotel when I spotted a beer store and pulled into the lot. My flight didn’t leave until the next day so a six pack of Amstel Light would do just fine, I was thinking as I walked in the door and said hello to the gentleman behind the counter. I didn’t see a cooler anywhere, other than the restaurant style walk-ins, so I told the fine fellow what I wanted, and asked where I could find it, looking around at the stacks of cases of beer. “I can’t sell you a six-pack,” he said. “What?” I said, completely taken off guard. “We don’t sell six-packs here,” he said. Thinking he was pulling my leg because of what was then a still lingering southern accent, I said something along the lines of what’s the matter, you about to run out? “No, no,” he said. “We don’t sell six packs here.” “You don’t sell six-packs in Pennsylvania?” “Not in beer stores,” he said. I kind of pride myself on having just a tad bit more common sense than your average Joe, but I was more than stumped at his reply. “Well, what do you sell?” I asked as politely as possible. “Cases only,” he responded. “Seriously,” I said. “But I only want a six-pack to take back to my hotel and relax by the pool.” Now I was really parched. “Why would I have to buy more than I want to drink?” I asked, still not getting the reasoning of the cases-only policy. Finally, after what seemed like a convoluted “Who’s on First?” routine, he informed me that I could go to the bar down the street and they would sell me a six-pack of Amstel Light. I half-heartedly thanked him for the education and headed to the bar to purchase my six-pack. When I walked up to the counter I remember mumbling something along the lines of, what are you doing here in Pennsylvania, promoting alcoholism? “What?” the young lady behind the bar asked. “Nothing, nothing,” I back-pedaled. “I just can’t believe I was just at a beer store and couldn’t buy the beer I wanted. Can I get a six-pack of Amstel Light, please?” When she rang me up, I was starting to see the light, and I’m not talking about the Amstel she was putting into a plastic bag. The price was about twice what it should have been. When I said as much she informed me that I could get it a lot cheaper at the beer store down the road if I bought it by the case. Thus began my education on the antiquated liquor laws here in the great state of Pennsylvania. While nothing has changed in the 20 years since, I have grown accustomed to making a stop at the beer store if I’m in the mood for a cold one, and the wine and spirits store if I’m in the mood for a glass of merlot. I also was careful to go during the week knowing at the time neither were open on Sundays. Thankfully, the good sense to allow them both to open up on Sundays finally prevailed. So I’ve been following the possible privatization of Pennsylvania’s liquor stores with some interest during the past few months. The state House passed a bill to do just that and it’s headed for the Senate, where hopefully, common sense will prevail once again. Convenience for a guy trying to buy a six-pack after a long day of apartment hunting is one thing, competition is another. Plain and simple, the state shouldn’t be in the liquor-selling business, and that was never more clear than when they started bottling their own wine and placing it on the shelves right next to the bottles produced by the hard-working folks at our local wineries and wineries across the country. A little common sense, and a brief lesson in capitalism, should make that point crystal clear. The year is 2013. The place is Montgomery County, Pa. I’ve been living here for nearly 20 years. I think it’s about time my now home state comes up to speed with every other state I’ve lived in. Stan Huskey is the editor of The Times Herald. He can be reached at 610-272-2500 ext. 215 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @StanHuskey on Twitter.