Anyone who has lives in or has visited Pennsylvania knows about the odd beer sales laws in the state. When going to a beer store you can only buy cases of beer. If you want less than that, a six pack for example, you need to go to a bar, not the beer store, to purchase such a small quantity.
The booze business in Pennsylvania is peculiar. Beer isn’t available at state liquor stores. Under current law, distributors can sell only by the case or keg; other take-out outlets are restricted to 192 ounces.
All that could change, however, as the legislature considers reinventing the system. One bill, on hold for the moment, would permit distributors to sell beer in any quantity, along with wine and liquor.
This may sound like a good idea for the consumer, but it doesn’t bode well for the business owners who have come to depend on the sales of small beer products to help offset their other business sales.
That would endanger the six-pack and quarts markets traditionally left to the taprooms, bar-restaurants, and small take-out shops that have proliferated in the last decade.
In the last two years, 900 such businesses have gone under, said Amy Christie, executive director of the Pennsylvania Tavern Owners Association, a lobbying group. If the state allows distributors to sell six-packs, she said, 1,000 more of the 11,738 licensees might go out of business.
Martin and others in the take-out trade say they would have to compete for sales with the very distributors from whom they must, under state law, buy their beer.
That, they contend, would put them at a distinct disadvantage. They say they have no choice but to charge more than distributors because their pricing is governed by what distributors charge them and by the local taxes levied on take-out beer – 17 percent in Philadelphia.
With their businesses already staggered by economic conditions, fundamental changes in drinking habits, and the arrival of new purveyors of carry-out beer such as Wegmans and Whole Foods, they say there is hardly a worse time to undercut their sales.
“It’s not a game-ender,” said Martin, who estimated take-out constitutes 10 percent to 15 percent of his revenue. But “it’s another nail in the coffin.”
But this change in law goes beyond just the simple sale of beer. A license to sell beer under the current law will become devalued with the new law in affect.
The take-out people are also crying foul because they say they bought their licenses – at costs up to $250,000 – under a given set of rules. Changing them now could seriously dilute the licenses’ resale value.
Licenses are sold on the open market and aren’t state regulated.
“I got into the business based on what I knew then, and now they’re talking about total upheaval,” Martin said.
So what are your thoughts on the old and new laws? Are things fine the way they are, or is it time for change?