After decades of debate, it sounds like it may have come to this: a Pennsylvania liquor privatization plan that leaves the liquor stores be, but allows more sales of beer in convenience stores and supermarkets.

That’s what’s being proposed – and spoken of behind closed doors – this week as the Legislative session winds down for summer recess.

The legislation at play, being debated in the Senate, would open up several types of stores for licenses to sell specific amounts of beer and wine, based on the size of your store, and the license you purchase and renew.

Right now, of course, Pennsylvanians can only buy liquor and wine in state-run stores. They can buy their beer in bulk at distributors. They can buy six-packs at grocery stores and corner stores that have special restaurant licenses.

The new bill would create licenses for grocery stores of various sizes, a separate license for big box stores to sell cases of beer, and a license for pharmacies to sell six-packs of beer.

This is largely not what Gov. Corbett and other Pennsylvania Republican governors over the years have proposed. Rather, the idea seems to be something of a compromise that morphed out of the push to privatize state liquor stores specifically, which are currently run by the government. In the short-term, this idea could help open up beer sales to almost anywhere. In the long-run, we’re left with a similar problem as privatization opponents have been raging against: Someone is getting left out to dry.

In this case, it’s not the union representing liquor store clerks, but the distributor owners. They’d be set to compete with big box stores like Wal-Mart and Target, and grocery stores. For anyone who’s lived somewhere else before coming to Pennsylvania, there are obviously lots more distributors here due to our laws.

Mark Tanczos, president of the Malt Beverage Distributors of Pennsylvania, is quoted on the trade organization’s website asking Gov. Corbett to use his “bully pulpit” to stop the proposed changes, which, Tanczos notes, was not part of Corbett’s original promise to Pennsylvania voters when he ran for office in 2010. “The most recent discussion in the Senate was not really about state store privatization but primarily aimed at picking winners and losers among private independent businesses – our small, family-owned and operated beer distributors – with new provisions that would loosen beer sales laws designed to protect minors,” Tanczos says. “The beer market is already a robust, competitive and convenient private enterprise marketplace with thousands of outlets.” (The Malt Beverage Distributors did not respond to PhillyNow’s request for comment.)

When liquor privatization was debated last year, one of the key points Democrats focused on — who mostly oppose privatization on union-busting grounds —was sales at grocery stores and pharmacies. Specifically, lawmakers argued it wasn’t safe allowing a clerk potentially under 18 years old to check ID and sell beer.

The legislation is in no way a done deal. And with Pennsylvania facing a potential $1.4 billion deficit going into the budget negotiations, it’s hard to imagine going halfway on this should get much more attention over the next two weeks.

About The Author

Staff writer

Randy LoBasso is the winner of the Pennsylvania Newsmedia Association's 2014 Distinguished Writing Award for his news and politics coverage at Philadelphia Weekly. He has also contributed to Alt Ledes, Salon, The Guardian and PennLive.

2 Responses

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      I think this bill will benefit convenience stores and supermarkets since the government allows them to vend beers. Although they need to have licenses base on the size of their stores but still offer them the right to sell beer which I believe is a good thing for their business. – Stephen Jackson


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