At a time when Pennsylvania is reeling from the effects of a pandemic, it is reasonable that our regulatory authorities might institute temporary policies that may have negative economic effects on our individual businesses, jobs, and lives.
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) is the body granted regulatory authority over the sale of wine and spirits in Pennsylvania. In this crisis, it has acted in such a way as to restrict and suppress sales by limiting how product can be purchased, who can purchase, and from whom it may be purchased.
While restaurants and retail establishments that hold legal licenses and permits to sell wine to-go have been allowed to remain open, the PLCB has restricted their ability to purchase wholesale products to offer for sale. The wholesale service centers from which these businesses generally procure their products have closed in the interest of health and safety. Instead, direct delivery is being offered — but currently only with a minimum purchase of 50 cases, and only of items that constitute stock managed by the PLCB. Thus, only the largest buyers can continue to receive wine shipments to maintain business operations. However, even with a lower minimum, these purchases can only be made from among a fraction of the wine legally available in Pennsylvania, disqualifying numerous suppliers whose stock the PLCB does not hold — that available by special order directly from the distributors — effectively putting them out of business. This is patently unfair and economically devastating to the thousands of smaller, legal license holders who simply cannot purchase in such quantity, to the retailers whose stock is not in PLCB hands, and to the distributors who otherwise can legally sell directly to restaurants. It is also in direct violation of Act 39.
In 2016, our duly elected officials signed Act 39 into law, declaring that it would “[e]nsure that the value of licenses held by small businesses are not devalued ....” In addition, the PLCB was also given the chance (and directive) to establish a process for direct delivery of special order wines by Jan. 1, 2017. The PLCB has yet to comply with this legal mandate.
Direct delivery from licensed distributors to licensed premises will have a positive impact on the PLCB and the commonwealth by increasing revenues — without jeopardizing PLCB jobs. Wine and liquor sales generate millions of dollars in income for Pennsylvania, including roughly $185 million paid into the State General Fund. If direct delivery of special order product is allowed, the bulk of taxes and fees currently paid through the model — including the 18% Emergency Tax and the 10% PLCB Standard Markup — will continue to be paid.
By limiting purchasing and delivery, the PLCB is endangering thousands of jobs and businesses in the private sector, leaving behind millions of dollars in income, and unfairly barring sales from licensed suppliers.
Many small businesses have closed and have been reduced to asking for donations to help laid-off staff survive, and many others are waiting on local, state, and federal loans. But, we have a legal way to stay viable and pay our staff and bills — simply by selling our products.
But, the PLCB has the unique ability to generate income for the commonwealth, to save jobs and businesses, and to better serve the public; this can all be done by allowing special order direct deliveries to retail establishments, as the law already permits. Please allow special order delivery and let us buy our product so that more businesses can continue to operate.
Direct delivery of special order wine is good for Pennsylvania; please ask your legislators to take action to enforce their mandate to allow this job-saving, income-generating, socially distant economic activity.
Jill Weber is a professional archaeologist and owner of Philly restaurants Jet Wine Bar, Rex 1516, and Cafe Ynez.