Privatization of Pennsylvania’s liquor business may be a good idea, but the statewide association representing licensed family-owned bars, taverns and restaurants has questions about how the State House bill to do so could impact their businesses and their customers before they can support such a change.
Because of those questions, the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association (PLBTA) is taking no position on HB 2272, sponsored by Rep. Natalie Mihalek (R, Allegheny), but instead is offering to help plan for privatization so that small businesses don’t suffer unintended consequences if the legislation and constitutional amendment pass.
Tavern and restaurant owners are concerned that the proposal is too simple for a complex state liquor system. The main text of the bill reads, “The Commonwealth shall not manufacture or sell at wholesale or retail, liquor.” Beyond that, the bill gives the state 18 months to get out of the liquor sales business.
The PLBTA Board of Directors recently agreed that the state should not be in the wholesale and retail liquor businesses, but said it is critical that, if the state does exit liquor sales, it be done in a way that protects small business taverns and licensed restaurants and their customers through meaningful protections and liquor code changes.
“Our Members have really taken a number of gut punches in recent years between Acts 39 and 166 of 2016 followed up by COVID mitigation orders, variants, supply chain issues, and workforce problems,” said Chuck Moran, executive director of the Harrisburg-based trade association. “The last thing any family-owned tavern or restaurant needs now is a change in the system that puts these small businesses at yet another disadvantage at a time when they are already struggling to recover and stay open.”
The PLBTA says a privatization effort should address problematic and antiquated liquor codes, and should be done with the public understanding that that small business taverns and restaurants and their customers will benefit with a different wholesale and retail arrangement.
Moran says his members in philosophy favor privatization but are concerned that without meaningful protections for small businesses, privatization could place them at a disadvantage compared to large multi-state chains.
“We anticipate well-funded, major players including those from out-of-state would view HB 2272 passage as an opportunity to have a ‘redo’ of the liquor code,” Moran says. “As such, beyond privatizing wholesale and retail sales, the eventual privatization plan could impact all phases of liquor control, licensing, and supply.”
Customer convenience is also an issue for the PLBTA, as it has been seeking various customer related changes already, including increased discounts, cocktails-to-go and modernization of Happy Hour regulations.
According to Moran, the PLBTA Board came to its position after thoughtful discussion and a review of input from its members, positions of other associations, and political realities.
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The Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association is the statewide political voice for small business taverns and licensed restaurants. Based in Harrisburg, the Association formed after Prohibition in 1941, reorganized in 2019, and today advocates for best practices and rights within the industry as well as best experiences for patrons. To learn more, visit www.pataverns.com or follow the Association on Twitter via @TavernPA.