Local beer owners are speaking out against a bill that would privatize liquor stores in Pennsylvania.
On Thursday, a Republican plan to phase out Pennsylvania's 600 state-operated liquor stores and raise millions in revenue by selling licenses to private businesses passed the state House and was sent to the state Senate.
The 194-page bill would give existing beer distributors the priority in purchasing 1,200 wine and spirits licenses. It also would allow groceries to sell wine, and enshrine their current ability, won through court rulings, to sell takeout beer. Eventually, another 600 licenses could be added to the mix.
Democrats warned the privatization bill will put thousands of state store employees out of work. Owners of small mom and pop shops agree, fearing that privatization will be the end to small businesses.
“I’m worried that my family and the people who have worked for me for 25 to 30 years will be out of business,” said Joseph Bound, owner of Bound Beverage.
Bound and his family have been in the beer business for 60 years. Bound says if big chain stores start selling cases, six packs and single bottles, his doors will be closed for good.
“They sell beer at a certain cost to get people to buy pork chops and potato chips and everything else that they sell," said Bound.
Beer distributors from all over the region gathered at Big Top Beverages in Abington for a meeting with Democratic lawmakers to voice their opposition to the bill. According to them, the bill would pit small beer shops against retail giants like Walmart and Wegmans.
“I’m afraid if it does go to these big box stores, it would put us out of business,” said Mary Sarsfield, a local beverage distributor. “We can’t compete with these stores and if they put six packs or cases in these stores, we’ll eventually shut down.”
Supporters say the state should not be selling alcohol and said private businesses would improve customer service, create jobs and put an end to a Depression-era system of state control that was nearly unique across the country. They said sales would increase in part by recapturing customers from Pennsylvania who currently purchase wine and liquor from other states, particularly New Jersey.
"We are moving in the right direction," said Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny. "There are going to be thousands of new private-sector jobs, not only in retail but in wholesale."
Both sides said the proposal was likely to see changes in the state Senate, where the Republican leader said discussions would soon begin regarding how that chamber will respond.