HARRISBURG – While the state has made a number of changes to relax closings included in Gov. Tom Wolf’s statewide coronavirus mitigation order, there are no current plans to reopen the state liquor store system, a Liquor Control Board spokeswoman said.
The state has already allowed the reopening of interstate rest stops, permitted gun shops to do sales by appointment and approved hundreds of day cares to reopen.
Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that has completely shuttered its state-run liquor stores in response to the coronavirus outbreak, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group.
Neighboring states, including New York and New Jersey, still have liquor stores open even though states have been hit harder by the coronavirus outbreak than Pennsylvania. New York has identified 30,811 coronavirus cases and New Jersey has identified 3,675. The Pennsylvania Department of Health announced Wednesday that there have been 1,127 coronavirus cases identified in this state.
Wolf on Monday said he’s heard the criticism of the move to close the state stores and he’s aware that other states have kept their stores open or at least, partially open.
“We are looking at that very seriously,” Wolf said. “I’m trying to understand the thinking in other states.”
Wolf said that there have been concerns raised about having the liquor stores closed because it may create issues for people dealing with alcohol dependence.
No decision to reopen stores has been made yet, said Elizabeth Brassell, a Liquor Control Board spokeswoman.
“Although we continue to monitor the situation in consultation with the Wolf Administration and public health officials,” she said.
While the 600 state stores are closed, the LCB’s three distribution centers – in Philadelphia, Allegheny and Lackawanna counties – remain open to continue to supply “high-volume licensee orders for wine,” from grocery and convenience stores, Brassell said.
“This crisis has certainly exposed flaws in the system,” said David Wojnar, vice president of state government relations at the Distilled Spirits Council. “The state-run stores are the only option for consumers to purchase distilled spirits and this situation underscores the need for flexibility, more channels of distribution and greater access."
On Tuesday, the governor also relaxed the order closing gun shops to allow them to make sales during limited hours by appointment. Also Tuesday, the Department of Transportation announced that 23 interstate rest stops will reopen. Last week, PennDOT reopened 13 rest stops after truckers complained that they didn’t have access to the facilities.
Wolf’s order closing non-essential businesses required day cares to close. But day care operators were allowed to seek waivers if they could prove they serve health care workers. By Tuesday, the state had granted waivers to allow 670 day cares to reopen, said Erin James, a Department of Human Services spokeswoman.