Rep. Payne says he'll introduce bill to allow it
Your corner beer distributor would be able to sell wine and liquor if a Hershey-area lawmaker has his way. State Rep. John Payne, R-Derry Twp., said he will soon introduce a bill to allow the roughly 1,200 beer distributors statewide to apply for a free permit to carry wine and spirits.
Wholesalers would also have the option to apply for a permit to sell wine and liquor, but it would cost $50 million.
Payne’s proposal, the latest salvo in the debate over whether Pennsylvania should sell its state-owned liquor stores to private operators, would leave the state liquor stores intact.
Beer distributors are already running a parallel network and have the cold storage, the warehouse space and the knowledge of how to work with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, Payne said.
If the privatization battle “is really about consumer accessibility... rather than the closed, restricted system we have now, then you would instantly have 1,200 more outlets plus a $50 million license fee for [each] wholesaler,” he said.
But it’s unclear how far the proposal might get.
State House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny County, is pushing for a privatization plan soon that would eliminate state liquor stores entirely.
“Not one iota of government should be about selling booze,” said Steve Miskin, a spokesman for the House Republicans. “We’re for privatizing liquor and wine sales.”
Miskin declined to comment further on the proposal because the legislation has not been introduced.
A spokeswoman for the Liquor Control Board declined to comment until the board can see the actual bill.
Gov. Tom Corbett’s office did not return calls seeking comment for this story, but Corbett has said he favors privatization.
Another roadblock could be the state liquor store employees’ union. Wendell Young, the union head, is staunchly against all privatization efforts. He cited a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that warned against further privatization of alcohol sales.
“Doubling the amount of locations and putting it in the hands of the beer monopoly isn’t going to help anybody,” Young said. “Even those in favor of privatization don’t think there should be an extreme increase in locations.”
Additionally, Young said beer distributors do not have experience in selling hard liquor.
He said it’s almost impossible to get served underage or while intoxicated at a state liquor store, but that teens don’t seem to have any trouble getting their hands on beer.
Despite those in and around state government who oppose the idea, midstate beer distributors and customers seemed enthusiastically on board.
“I think in the business climate we’re in right now with the Wegmans and the supermarkets trying to sell beer, which right now is our only viable product, ... this would definitely help us survive and stay in business,” said Tom Bowman, owner of Beer Express in Lower Paxton Twp. “I think I’d be 100 percent on board.”
Bowman said supermarkets have argued in court cases that their counterparts in other states are able to sell beer. But if grocery stores want that same right, distributors should be allowed to be on par with distributors in other states that can sell all types of alcohol.
Roger Ackerman, owner of Mechanicsburg Beverage, also worries about the impact supermarket beer sales are having on smaller, independent beer distributors. He sees the proposal as a help for his business.
“We’ve been controlling beer for some 75 years in beer distributors,” Ackerman said. “The atmosphere is already in place, the people are already trained. In light of what’s happening with grocery stores ... the ability to sell wine and liquor would just enhance our operations.”
To customers, however, it’s about convenience and choice, not business.
“I think it’d be great. It’s one-stop shopping,” said Ron Groff, a Hampden Twp. resident who stopped at Silver Spring Beverage on Thursday.
Ken Bomgardner of Silver Spring Twp. said he seldom goes to a Wine & Spirits Shoppe. “It would be a lot easier to come in a beer distributor and get beer and wine instead of going to a state store [to purchase the wine],” he said.
“That would be awesome. Everybody likes choice, right?” said Doug Thompson of Mechanicsburg. He and his wife, Deb, stopped in to pick up a case of beer and to see if the store sold wine coolers. “It helps business too. ... If they would have sold wine coolers, we would have bought them.”
With the price of gasoline rising, making one stop instead of two or three would be an added benefit, said Jaratt Dill, 21, a student at Harrisburg Area Community College.
“It’s better than driving around [to stores] five or six miles apart,” Dill said. “I feel like we’re in such a restricted state.”
Payne said he and state Rep. Mark Mustio, R-Allegheny County, were brainstorming how they could change the way alcohol is sold to make it more convenient for customers and avoid the expense of creating a new distribution system.
This idea “seemed like a pretty common-sense transition,” Payne said.