Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A huge step forward on alcohol sales

Raise a glass, Pennsylvania.

Slowly, one tiny step at a time, the state mocked as the 'Land of Giants' is crawling out of the Dark Ages in the way it handles the sales of alcohol.

The House took another big step yesterday, passing and sending to Gov. Tom Wolf a bill that would loosen the state's archaic laws, and deliver what most people in the state - including this writer - have been seeking for years, more convenience.

Specifically, the House gave the green light for supermarkets that already have a license to sell beer to add wine by the bottle.

People who live in other states, where many supermarkets routinely offer several aisles dedicated to whatever beer, wine or spirit floats their boat, might find this hard to believe, but that's not the case here in Pa.

And before you break out the party hats, let me remind you that this is Pennsylvania. It's changing, but it's still not exactly what you would call 'convenient.'

You will still have to visit a separate part of the store to buy beer or wine, and you will have to pay for it there, as opposed to simply tossing it in the cart and paying for it along with the rest of your groceries.

Oh, you wanted a case of beer? Sorry, that means a trip to your local beer distributor.

Spirits? You're out of luck, Wegmans shoppers. Those can only be purchased at your local state store.

The bill passed yesterday is not privatization. Some might argue it barely registers as modernization.

The state stores - and those precious union jobs - are not going away.

The bill does, however, allow for expanded hours and operation at the state store.

Here's a few other things the legislation accomplishes:

- You'll be able to buy up to four bottles of wine at licensed restaurants, bars, hotels, supermarkets and delis. There are about 14,000 of those licenses in use currently in the state.

- Remember that ruling a few weeks back that allowed for beer sales at convenience stores? The bill make that permanent. We'll talk to Wawa today to see if they are interested in adding that feature to more stores. They already plan to offer beer sales at a store on Naamans Creek Road out in Concord.

- Consumers will have the ability to have wine shipped directly to them by private wine wholesalers.

- If you're at a casino, you'll be able to drink 24 hours a day, compared with 19 hours under current law.

- The state's 600 state liquor stores would be able to offer expanded hours, including allowing all stores to offer Sunday sales.

Gov. Wolf, who was an adamant foe of privatization but who said he favored modernization of the existing system, has said only that he will carefully review the proposal.

I think it's a safe be he will sign it, despite the union opposition.

I've said all along that I favor privatization. I don't think the state has any business being in a business that would be handled better by private enterprise.

Really, all I would like to be able to do is buy what I need in one place. My preference would be for a super store where I could buy a six-pack or case of beer, along with a bottle of wine for dinner.

I know what some of you are thinking. The editor of the Daily Times has a drinking problem. I assure you I'm solely a social tippler.

And to those union folks, including Wendell Young IV, who I have debated this issue with for years, I offer this. Here's one solution no one has thought about.

Why not allow beer sales at state stores.

Uh, oh, now I've done it. Now the beer distributors are going to be ticked off at me.

Cheers, folks. Pennsylvania is changing. Yes, it's a lot slower than I would like. But it is happening. Could privatization be next?

One step at a time, people.

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