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Liquor businesses get shaken, stirred

In News by Flaherty & O'Hara

If Gov. Tom Corbett has his way, it will soon be last call for Pennsylvania to be in the liquor business.

In his latest budget proposal, Corbett made his anticipated push for a total privatization of state-controlled wholesale and retail operations that have been around since Prohibition.

The plan lets retail beer distributors now restricted to selling by the case or keg apply for an enhanced license that would permit them to sell six-packs as well as wine. How much beer a retailer can sell would vary based on the kind of establishment it is; provisions vary among supermarkets, restaurants/hotels/taverns, big-box stores, grocery stores, convenience stores and pharmacies.

“I think the proposal has something in it for everybody,” said Kevin Joyce, owner of the Carlton Restaurant downtown and an active participant in the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association’s efforts to improve pricing for wine and spirits in the state. “Obviously, there are a lot of people involved in the crafting of it.”

Citing polls that say 70 percent of the state’s residents want to be able to buy wine, beer and spirits at the retail location of their choice, Corbett must now prepare for the uphill fight to come as a broad cross-section of competing interests debate the controversial plan.

There are the 5,000-plus employees who work in the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board system who see their jobs as being in jeopardy, as well as the more-conservative factions in the state that worry alcohol will become much easier to obtain.

Then there are those interests hoping for lower prices in the form of relief from the current state markup; the breweries and beer distributors facing a more-competitive landscape as four new classes of licenses would allow a broader range of retailers to sell beer; and the vast array of businesses — restaurants, bars, hotels, breweries — that have been required to invest and operate in the current system, often acquiring liquor licenses at a substantial cost.