David Shipula is the current president of the Malt Beverage Distributors Association of Pennsylvania. (Disclosure: I was compensated to travel to Pittsburgh and address the MBDAPA several years ago; I do freelance consulting for some members of the Association.) He is also the owner of Beer Super in Wilkes-Barre. He seems to be a good guy, working for the Association.
But he's saying some stuff in the papers lately that bugs me.
In the May 19 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer, he writes in a piece titled "Keep Beer in Beer Stores," "Now, I can't be the only person who sees a problem with making it easy to buy beer and gasoline in one convenient location."No, you're not, but just because two people think french-kissing makes girls pregnant doesn't mean we're going to be overrun with babies. People drive to gas stations to buy gas, sure, but they also drive to Beer Super to buy beer. Are the gasoline fumes going to drive them to drink to excess on the way home? There's nothing about buying gas that makes people more likely to drink. Is it the "ice-cold sixpack" "waved in their face" that Shipula brings up that's the problem at the gas station? Funny, because he also lauds people buying six-packs at Pennsylvania's restaurants and bars, most of which they're driving away with, judging by the parking lots at so many of them. I know there's no bar within walking distance of my house. Beer at gas stations driving people to drink is a bogeyman. It makes no sense in the light of day, or reason.
Then he says, "They also want the supermarket shopping experience to remain something the entire family can enjoy without giving children - from toddlers to teenagers - the idea that beer is as harmless as, say, a calorie-laden, high-fructose corn syrup-laced soft drink."Yet it's okay for beer to be sold at a restaurant or deli or pizzeria where the family's getting dinner? What, it's raw food that makes beer scary? Besides, when was the last time you saw "the entire family" enjoy "the supermarket shopping experience"? On an Ozzie & Harriet re-run? This paragraph is so ridiculous it's embarrassing.
In the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat on June 2, he wrote a letter that said "Sheetz has its gas pumps on one property deed and its convenience store on another to skirt the law prohibiting beer sales at gas stations."What law would that be? I searched the entire PA Liquor Code, and the only mention I saw of gas stations, service stations, or gasoline sales is here, under the rules for who has standing to petition licenses being granted (standing to petition, i.e., those who have half a leg to stand on as opposed to total loonies), where it's noted that the MBDA had standing to petition an "application for a double transfer of an eating place malt beverage license to premises on which a restaurant, convenience store, and gas station would operate", that is, the Sheetz case. There is no such law. Period.
In the Scranton Times-Tribune on April 8, he wrote another letter that said "In fact, the buying power of large supermarket chains like Wegmans makes it very difficult for small food and beverage producers to compete profitably. Shelf space is at such a premium in supermarkets that manufacturers and distributors are forced to pay “slotting allowances” to even get their products displayed on supermarket shelves."Manufacturers and distributors do pay "slotting allowances," also known as "slotting fees," to get their products on supermarket shelves...except for alcohol beverages. That's illegal, slotting fees for alcohol beverages having been banned by the then-Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms in 1995, a federal ban. Once again, a bogeyman: grocery wholesalers have to pay slotting fees, beer wholesalers do not. As it happens, Wegmans loves small producers; it gives their stores a competitive advantage. I've been in Wegmans in New York: the beer selection's quite nice.
That's also where he says this: "Individual beer distributors can own one and only one license for retail, off-premises consumption — and then only in quantities of one case or more of beer. Already, Wegmans has been granted six licenses by the Liquor Control Board."True, but they're not the same kind of license! Wegman's licenses are so-called "deli licenses," which allow only sixpack sales. That's how chains of bars own more than one license, something Shipula doesn't mind. Why doesn't he care that Appleby's, for example, owns multiple licenses that allow retail, off-premises consumption (as all tavern licenses do in PA)? Because Appleby's doesn't sell sixpacks to go. If they aren't competition, he doesn't care. This is all about money and competition.
Shipula admits that, finally, after throwing smoke. He says all he wants is a level playing field. But that's not going to happen with the maze-like provisions of the Pennsylvania Liquor Code, where the MBDAPA apparently found reason to argue that if Sheetz doesn't want to sell on-premise, they can't sell off-premise. This ignores Appleby's, of course, which does sell on-premise but chooses not to sell off-premise, as do many, if not the majority of Pennsylvania's restaurants with liquor licenses.
These arguments play on fears -- Beer is dangerous! People will use it irresponsibly at the slightest provocation! -- that it is stunning to hear coming from the head of a beer industry association. They are full of statements and implications that are simply not true. They are worrisome.
I understand that the distributors see supermarket sales as the single greatest threat to their livelihood, and this looks like the wedge to open that up. I think that instead of spending their time and money fighting against something that is simply, clearly legal under the Code as it stands, they should be putting their efforts into changing the laws that govern how all booze is sold in PA. Get rid of the case law and allow six-pack and single sales for distributors ASAP. Get rid of the State Store system and let distributors sell wine and spirits. Get normal.
I am on the side of the beer business. I support them, I work with them, I'm grateful to them. But I am a consumer. I want to buy beer where and how everyone else in the Union does, and I don't see any good reasons why I should not be able to. All I see above are bad reasons. Let's fix this. All of it.