U.S. drinking more now than just before Prohibition

Bottles of wine are displayed during a tour of a state liquor store in Salt Lake City. According to federal health statistics, Americans are drinking more now than when Prohibition was enacted a century earlier. What’s more, it’s been rising for two decades, and it’s not clear when it will fall again.

HARRISBURG — The liquor industry is pushing back against Pennsylvania’s move to close all the state-run liquor stores, saying other states with similar systems haven’t resorted to such a drastic step.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board closed its 600 stores on Tuesday and the state’s online ordering web site was shut down on Monday.

Pennsylvania is the only state to completely close down all its state-run liquor stores, according to the Distilled Sprits Council of the United States, a Washington, D.C.,-based trade group.

The LCB has no immediate plan to reopen stores, said Elizabeth Brassell, a spokeswoman for the board.

“Not at this time, although we continue to monitor the situation in consultation with the Wolf Administration and public health officials,” she said.

The state’s move is going to be hard on customers as well as the industry, said Chris Swonger, president and CEO of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

“Pennsylvania’s hospitality industry, including craft distillers, is already under enormous strain due to the U.S. tariffs on EU spirits and wine products,” Swonger said. The industry wants the state to reconsider the move to close all the state stores, which are “the only channel of distribution that Pennsylvania consumers have to distilled spirits,“ he said.

Neighboring states, including New York and New Jersey, still have liquor stores open. Swonger said.

In Virginia, the state has cut hours in stores in the area around Newport News, York and Williamsburg, due to the coronavirus outbreak. Stores elsewhere in the state haven’t been impacted, yet, according to the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Authority.

In Alabama, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board closed some stores and shifted operations in the open stores. Now, instead of walking through the liquor store to shop, customers tell staff what they want and the bottles are retrieved for them, according to the Alabama board.

In Mississippi, the state has announced plans to allow customers to order bottles of liquor online or by phone and get through curbside pickup.

The distilled spirits council said that if Pennsylvania doesn’t reopen state stores, the Liquor Control Board should consider other avenues to allow people to buy alcohol.

One suggestion offered by the liquor trade group was that Pennsylvania could allow restaurants that are now selling take-out food, but barred from serving customers in their dining rooms, to sell bottled liquor as well.

“These restaurants are already licensed to sell spirits and already are trained in proper ID verification. As restaurants across the state are suffering huge financial losses due to lack of business, the ability to also sell distilled spirits would help offset their losses and could potentially prevent permanent restaurant closures,” Swonger said. 

CNHI PA State Reporter

CNHI State Reporter John Finnerty covers the Pennsylvania Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Follow him on Twitter @cnhipa. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com.

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