Monopolies Make My Head Hurt

It’s no secret that I hate Pennsylvania’s liquor sales system. It’s run by a state agency with a mission to make it as miserable as possible to purchase liquor. Now they are pitching pieces to argue that it’s not really any cheaper to buy liquor out-of-state.

The perception in Pennsylvania is that other states have better prices on wine and liquor, so it makes sense to stock up when you’re out of state. Maryland stores near the Pennsylvania line say they get plenty of customers from the Keystone State.

But a survey of liquor stores in four states conducted by The Patriot-News reveals that prices aren’t always better across the state line. In fact, in some cases, Pennsylvania prices are cheaper.

I have no idea how they selected the stores they did to compare prices, because my price comparisons have always saved money in New Jersey. Sometimes, I might only save a buck or two, but if I’m stocking up on several wines, each of those dollars saved will pay for the gas over there. In the meantime, I also have tremendous selection. If I’m lucky (and driving 10 miles out of my way), a state-run store in Pennsylvania will have a <$15 Bordeaux that I find okay. In New Jersey, I know exactly where I can grab a $9 bottle that rates as pretty damn good for a casual dinner wine. Consistency, selection, and prices combine to make the privately run out-of-state retailers a good choice. The PLCB, in defense of their existence, prefers to ignore all of those factors that make shopping everywhere a positive experience.

For the record, the paper really had to have gone to some crappy stores to find prices that are higher than Pennsylvania’s stores. To defend the monopoly, they found two examples of products that are sold $1 cheaper in Pennsylvania. But, on the privatization side, they found a bottle of scotch that sells for $12 less in Delaware. They also interview a woman who cites Massachusetts as the land of the free (liquor & wine) because wines that cost only $3 or $4 there are double those prices here.

The PLCB also likes to tout that they have more buying power than a private entity because they buy for the entire freakin’ state and can pass on the lower prices. In that case, why did the paper only find savings of $1 or $2 over the private stores where they did find a difference in prices? Why didn’t the reporter ask the PLCB to explain why they don’t have significantly lower prices for consumers if this buying power gets them such great deals? We know it can happen – look at Wal-Mart. When you’re a big buyer, you have some room to truly negotiate bigger savings. It would appear that the PLCB doesn’t exactly exert its big buyer status.

Something has gone horribly wrong with liquor & wine sales in this state when we look to states like New Jersey, Massachusetts, and even Hawaii for lower prices.

(h/t to Capitol Ideas & Commonwealth Foundation)

17 thoughts on “Monopolies Make My Head Hurt”

  1. The PLCB probably does exert it’s buying power, it’s just not enough to offset the union workforce and 24% worth of taxes.

  2. I want convenience. I want beer and wine and spirits at the Wawa, at the Sheetzs, at the supermarket. It is really simple.
    I don’t mind paying a buck more if I can get it at MY convenience.

    Idiots are grasping at straws.

  3. Another reason to abhor the PA Wine and Spirits stores is that its employees know nothing about the wares they sell. Go into a state store and ask for a recommendation on a wine that’s pairs well with a certain food that meets a certain price point. You’ll get no answer.

    Then go to Total Wine in Delaware and ask the same question. Not only will they answer you, but they’ll invite you to a wine / food pairing meeting.

  4. I saw a bottle of Lagavulin (sp?) scotch in DE for almost $30 cheaper than I can get it for in PA. Even worse, you have to order it ahead of time in PA, whereas in Delaware it’s just sitting there on a shelf, ready to grab and go.

  5. Isn’t it illegal to buy out of state and then import it back across the PA state line?

  6. Yes, it is illegal to bring liquor & wine back into the state. It’s just a law they don’t enforce because they know that if they do, the PLCB will be dismantled very quickly. I’ve even heard customers at state stores start discussing the wines they buy out-of-state with PLCB staff, and they never say a thing. I suspect they know that if word gets out to the average person that it’s illegal to bring those wines back into the state, they’ll soon lose that union job.

  7. Yup, it is, Chris. In fact, there are only two crimes against the Constitution that one can commit as an individual. One is enslaving someone – a suitably hellish act – and the other is transporting liquor across state lines. Juvenile, illegal, perhaps – but unconstitutional? A certain problem with the 21st Amendment do I have…

  8. I love my local state store. The best wine you can get is $20 bottle of Kendal Jackson. Giving a gift of Kendal Jackson says you either:
    1. Live in a rusty home on wheels
    2. Have no idea what you’re buying
    3. Think $20 won’t make you look cheap
    4. You live in PA and few other options

    This system just needs to go away.

  9. PA stopped doing the whole run the plates of out of state buyers and have a car waiting at their home when they arrive and confiscate the vehicle deal?

  10. Considering that half of Joe Canal’s parking lot in Princeton is full of PA tags, I think it’s safe to say that the answer to that is “yes.” :)

  11. Snow, I have a question about buying booze in PA.

    When I was at the NRA’s CLE seminar in Pittsburgh on Friday, I went for a quick beer afterwards and I could not pay the bartender directly. She sent me away to pay some older Polish woman in the corner who gave me a ticket to get my beer (my first Yuenling!). I then shuffled back to the bar like some dedushka buying groceries for my beer.

    Was I a victim of PA’s Byzantine liquor laws?

  12. As a California resident, this is one area where I have an advantage. Killer wine and beer selection (even at some of the dive liquor stores), and good prices.

  13. Shootin’ Buddy,
    That’s not PA law, that’s just weird tradition in the bar. You can pay directly — I pay through the nose directly here in Philly all the time. There is a lot of confusion, though, because Pennsylvania’s Liquor Code needs an enema. It’s terribly convoluted and confusing, to the point where friends of mine who own bars still aren’t sure if they’re breaking the law or not, and their lawyer has advised them NOT TO ASK. So there you are. Privatization of the State Stores is just the beginning.

  14. It’s not some tradition in a bar. That’s called the set up for a cash bar in a hotel at a busy reception. Go to enough events – regardless of the state, and you’ll find that to be the case. It means you don’t have to hire as many bartenders who are doing double duty for pouring drinks & handling cash. This way you can hire bartenders just to tend drinks and untrained staff to handle the cash and tickets.

  15. Shootin’ Buddy:

    You just happened to drink at a bar that was wise the fact that in an all cash business employees can and do steal.

  16. Markie Marxist sez: “Government-run stores are the only way to go! No one should ever be allowed to buy anything from a capitalist, private enterprise! I never thought of Pennsylvania as a bastion of communism, but it does seem to be so, if only in this respect. Hopefully, we can do the same thing with gun stores by nationalizing them. And McDonald’s. And Walmart. And the airline industy, pharmaceuticals, oil, etc.”

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