09 November 2010

But Private Enterprise Can't Sell Hard Liquor and Wine--Can They?

 Every state's population is fond of complaining about its liquor laws.  No matter how restrictive or laissez-faire they may actually be, every state or jurisdiction has something arcane or stupid buried in there to complain about.  Maryland, for all the "blue-state" inanity it may inflict upon its complacent residents, is miraculously relatively "libertarian" when it comes to the alcohol business, with relatively low alcohol taxes (for the moment) and low restrictions on entry into the marketplace, and distribution restrictions (almost no booze in grocery stores, chain stores, or convenience stores, for example) that encourage a more level playing field between small and large producers.  (Go to states where beer and wine are sold in grocery stores; you'll find the market dominated by the producers and distributors that can deliver trailerloads to distribution centers rather than vanloads to liquor stores.)  And in the past I've joked that I moved from Pennsylvania just to get away from its Liquor Control Board and its "case law" (yes, unless you pay bar prices for six-packs, you have to buy beer by the case in Pennsylvania--good luck with that case of Chimay at $114 or a case of Dogfish World Wide Stout at $[price hidden to avoid cardiac arrest]....)

Reason Magazine's Jacob Sullum offers up an op-ed on the proposals to privatize Pennsylvania's arcane and outdated "State Store" (oh, pardon me, "Wine & Spirits Shoppe") system--a bureaucracy so convoluted and anti-consumer that it has inspired a blog strictly to advocate its shutdown--and segues into commentary on similar proposals in Virginia.  Now, if they could only hover into Montgomery County, Maryland, one of the few counties in the nation to directly control an alcohol monopoly...........

The title of the piece?  "Liquor Privatization Would Save Money and Improve Service, but It Also Would Eliminate Unnecessary Government Jobs. What to Do?"  The comments are, as always, an interesting debate.  The first one is a hoot:

A Democrat state delegate stated that privatizing the ABC stores would lead to increased consumption among school-aged kids because there would be mom and pop liquor stores near schools, parks and ballfield where kids hang out.
I sent him a note informing him that about 2 miles from my house, there is a Virginia ABC store directly across the street and within easy walking distance from an elementary school and a county park, which includes a ball field.
I of course received no response whatsoever.
(Cartoon: Rob Rogers, Pittsburgh Post Gazette)


Jay Zeis said...

I believe the new Governor of PA is for privatization of the state stores. I am hoping this happens

JohnM. said...

"Go to states where beer and wine are sold in grocery stores; you'll find the market dominated by the producers and distributors that can deliver trailerloads to distribution centers rather than vanloads to liquor stores.)"

I think that's a little bit of an exaggeration Alex, or at least an over simplification of what's going on in some of our sister states. Yes, if you go out West, you'll find grocery stores like Safeway, Albertson's, Ray's and the like that are clearly dominated by the macros, Gallos and Kendle-Jacksons of the world. However, increasingly you'll also find Wegman-like strores that have decided to focus on high end wine, craft beer and imports. I would also add that in States such as Washington and Oregon, I'm pretty certain it is illegal for a distributor to offer a volume discount to the retailer (probably the biggest incentive for grocery stores to carry large producer mechandise). The result is that places like Fred Meyer and QFC increasingly are not dominated by the big producers, but also offer an outstanding selection of small winery wine and craft beer... and in California, how do you explain the success of Beverages and More?

Just my two cents Alex, but I think increasingly it's more about perception, and what a store thinks their customer wants. I realize it's about money as well, but all the big boys are likely getting the same top discount anyway, so I would think a better grocery store would want to have something on hand other than just the usual macro swill (or the usual New Belgium, SNPA and anchor products).

... and while the Pa. case law sucks, and while the PLCB have to be some of the biggest bunch of yahoos on the planet... it's hard to argue with success. If you know any other state with a better beer selection than what you can find in SEPA, I'd sure like to hear about it.