The Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association sat down with Rep. Kurt Masser recently to learn more about him and his interest in politics. He is the only active tavern owner who sits in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. In addition to owning Wayside Inn in Shamokin, he represents Montour County and parts of Northumberland and Columbia County in the state House. In recent months, Rep. Masser has been hosting a listening tour, travelling to different counties to meet with tavern owners about their concerns.
PLBTA: Tell us about the Wayside Inn. How long have you been in the bar business and why?
KM: I have been in the business for 38 years, we have owned the Wayside Inn for 31 years. We originated in the hospitality industry because of a need to market our farm products. I grew up on the family farm. We first started a farm market, then went into the restaurant and catering business and then we purchased the Wayside Inn. All are still open and doing well.
PLBTA: Thinking back to your first elected position, what motivated you to run for public office?
KM: It was as simple as opening my real estate tax bill at the business. I was mad as hell because of a large tax increase. I knew I had a couple of options, harp and complain or get involved, I chose the latter and ran for and won a seat as County Commissioner, then 7 years later for State Representative.
PLBTA: There are a number of pressing issues facing tavern owners today. Of all the issues, which ones are you most concerned with addressing?
KM: I have spent considerable time on gaming for taverns. But I also have been hearing from a number of people in the industry about fairness between different types of licensees, and am now working on those issues also.
PLBTA: Passage of Act 39 forced many changes in the retail liquor industry, with unintended consequences for many licensees. Similar changes took place with each new law regulating gaming, from small games of chance to skill games and VGTs. Taverns are facing more challenges and more competition than ever before from many angles. Do you anticipate the Pennsylvania House of Representatives looking at the impacts of Act 39, and making changes to help level the playing field for all licensees?
KM: I think we have to look at the impacts of Act 39, and it is my job to help the rest of the General Assembly understand the challenges we face. The industry has radically changed since I’ve been in it, we need to be able to change and also to adapt, but more importantly we need the legislature to partner with us to protect our industry and the jobs associated with it.
PLBTA: What can tavern owners do to help convince legislators to support them and get the changes they need from the PLCB and state government?
KM: Most importantly get to know your legislators. Make sure they hear from you! It means much, much more to me when I hear from a constituent in my District. Invite them to meet with you and talk about the issues. If possible, do a meeting with numerous tavern owners from his/her district and the legislator. They need to hear from you. It can be very frustrating when we are advancing a bill that either hurts or helps us and I hear from my colleagues that they hadn’t heard from any tavern owners.
PLBTA: As you know, our Members are mostly Mom-and-Pop operations. When they look around their hometowns, they can see that the local hardware store has closed, the independent doctor was bought out by a hospital chain, and the neighborhood grocery store is no more. They worry that their industry is next. Do you ever worry about small businesses going away?
KM: I do have concerns, but I don’t worry that our industry will go away. As I have said before, like any other business, times change, industries change, and you need to be ready and willing to change with those times.
PLBTA: Rep. Masser, do you have any advice for bar and tavern owners about how to help change the state’s liquor or gaming laws?
KM: Get involved and let your voice be heard. You need to know your State Rep. and your State Senator, and they need to know you. I know running your business takes all of your time, and sometimes you may think “what is the point, it won’t matter”. I was just like most of you before being elected, but I now know how wrong I was.
PLBTA: Do you have any advice to other tavern owners who may be interested in running for office someday?
KM: If you are able to, you should run for office. Whether local, state or Federal, we need more people in office who have signed the front of the check. We need more people who have struggled to make payroll and pay bills, that know how changes to any laws can and will affect small business.
This Q&A was republished from the February 2020 edition of Pennsylvania Observer — the official monthly magazine of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association.