Wegmans' successful supermarkets are known for their extraordinary variety and vastness. But there's one thing they no longer have room for: the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.
The New York-based chain recently asked the state beverage ministry to remove its Orwellian wine vending machines from the company's stores within 30 days. Even for a venture as obviously misguided as the LCB's foray into automated alcohol sales, Wegmans' rejection was startling in its fervor and finality - a real business' devastating verdict on the liquor agency's latest attempt to mimic one.
Wegmans found that the so-called wine kiosks not only fell short of their stated goal of improving customer convenience, but also appeared to be doing actual harm to the rest of the grocer's business. In a letter to the LCB, a company official said the vending machines "in some ways have been detrimental to our stores."
No decent establishment likes anyone bothering the customers, and that's exactly what the buggy booze-bots have been doing. Wegmans said the high volume of complaints about them was the most important reason for the eviction notice.
The company's decision will decommission 10 wine kiosks, or about a third of the statewide fleet. And it does so just as the LCB has been floating plans to ramp up the program by deploying more machines and perhaps adding hard liquor to them.
The machines were among the agency's efforts to quell the latest surge of political support for privatizing Pennsylvania's liquor and wine sales - a notion that hasn't been very controversial in most of the United States since around the time of the New Deal.
The kiosks were supposed to allow customers to purchase wine in supermarkets and other stores rather than being constrained by the LCB's hours and locations. But the monstrous, overly complicated devices - equipped with Breathalyzers, driver's license readers, and live video links to ministry headquarters - have turned out to be prohibitively glitchy and unapproachable.
With any luck, though, the Commonwealth's beleaguered wine-droid army will someday have one proud distinction: It will be regarded in retrospect as the LCB's Waterloo. Rarely before has any government agency so succinctly, thoroughly, and convincingly made the case for its own elimination.