Pennsylvania Liquor Stores Get More Competitive
By Mark Hoffman, Special to Stateline
In an effort to boost its bottom-line, Pennsylvania is trying to entice more people to purchase alcohol in the Keystone State instead of neighboring states by making its state-owned liquor stores more customer-friendly.
The state, which controls all retail sales of wine and liquor through a network of 638 stores overseen by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB), recently opened several new outlet stores that offer more alcohol at a lower price than the old state-owned stores. These outlet stores are strategically positioned on high-traffic highways near state borders.
The goal, according to the PLCB, is to stop Pennsylvania residents from crossing the state line to buy wine and liquor at cheaper prices in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia, Ohio, and Maryland.
"We are trying to stop the border bleed," said Bill Epstein, PLCB Director of Communications. "Residents are leaving the state to make liquor purchases. It is illegal to buy liquor and bring it back for personal consumption, but the reality is there is no enforcement."
There are no hard numbers, but the parking lots of liquor stores across the border are often filled with cars with license plates from the Keystone State, Epstein said.
By law, all PLCB stores must charge the same prices for each product. However, the new border outlet stores also carry different products -- larger bottles or two bottles shrink-wrapped -- that are discount-priced.
"We have used our purchasing power to convince top brand suppliers to offer us some different packages. A bottle of liquor might sell for $24.99, for example. The outlets will also offer one offering 30 percent more product for $25.99," Epstein said.
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has converted four existing stores near border states into "discount outlets," with promised savings of 20 to 60 percent when calculated by the ounce. The outlet stores are located in the Franklin Mills shopping center, near Philadelphia close to Delaware and New Jersey; in Adams County near tourist-laden Gettysburg not far from Maryland; in Hermitage, near the Ohio border and in Easton, just across the river from New Jersey
"Results are early, but we are pleased with the numbers," said Epstein. The Gettysburg store reported an additional $3,500 in two-days of sales compared to the same time last year.
"In profit and taxes in 2002, the PLCB generated in excess of $360 million. That was 2.6 percent ahead of 2001. Right now, we are already five percent ahead of last year's pace," Epstein said. He projected upwards of $424 million this year.
The outlet stores come on the heels of several other consumer-friendly initiatives, including the first-ever Sunday sales by the PLCB, online ordering (www.pawineandspirits.com) as well as wine-tastings at high-traffic stores.
"We are averaging $300,000 to $500,000 sales statewide on a Sunday. On the Sunday over the Memorial Day weekend, sales spiked at more than $700,000," Epstein added.
By law, only ten percent of the stores can now be open on Sunday. In 2005, all PLCB stores will be able to offer Sunday sales.
Next on the list, according to Epstein, are PLCB stores in supermarkets. The PLCB expects to have three up and running early next year.