Beer gets Op-Ed attention in the Inquirer today; the Sheetz case goes to the State Supreme Court tomorrow. The editorial gets the general idea right, which is good: Pennsylvanians should be able to buy beer in six-packs, like everyone else in the United States. As the Inky says, "Beer must be purchased mostly by the case. Six-packs are available at bars and restaurants - at sky-high prices. The system is tailor-made to restrict competition and choice, and to artificially inflate prices."
So far, so good, although the average reader could easily infer that this "system" was put in place by the taverns and beer distributors, rather than put in place by the State and enforced by its booze law goon squad, the PLCB. But they miss the point. The Sheetz case is not about selling beer at a convenience store; if they win their case -- and they should -- it will not mean that every WaWa will be selling sixers of Coors Light. It's both more and less complicated than that.
What Sheetz wants is to be able to use the license they bought for their big Altoona store, a store that, like many in the chain, is so big that they've included a seating area for their large food menu. Other delis/pizza joints have the same thing, and there's no problem. That's the less-complicated part.
The more complicated part is mostly, pardon me, bullshit. The rub with Sheetz, supposedly, is that the company doesn't want to allow on-premises consumption of the beer; you can't drink it there, you have to get it to go. This is what has brought the case to the courts: a company policy that most Pennsylvanians could care less about if it means they can buy a sixer of Bud Light at a convenience store (Didja see that word? Convenience. Something the PLCB oughta look into).
What's it really about? Well, the Inky bellows about "surly beer sellers who now maintain a monopoly." Get it right: the beer sellers are surly because either the State won't let them sell six-packs (the distributors), or because the State set up rules that led them to base their business model on a monopoly on selling six-packs (the tavern owners).
The taverns are going to have to roll over on this. Places like The Sixpack Store, Suds, Quick Six, and The Foodery have built a business around giving us what we want: sixpacks to go, a good selection, in and out. They see a heavily bankrolled chain moving into their business, they're probably going to fight it. But when the dust settles, it's going to be the same scene, just more competitive. There are only so many licenses; business will go to the stores that best serve the variety of consumer needs.
But the beer distributors are the ones getting screwed, and we're getting it right along with them. They've got the expertise, the selection, the space, the cold rooms...let them sell sixpacks. Please! If you're going to level the playing field, level the whole thing.
Some of you will probably think I'm being too hard on the Inquirer. They are calling for sixpacks for the citizens, after all. But this is a complicated issue that goes to the heart of the problems with the PLCB: interpretation of arcane, archaic laws that would be better off being completely replaced, rather than tinkered with. If I'm dealing with a 'major daily,' I expect the full story.