The Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association sat down with Rep. Jeffrey Pyle recently to learn more about his perspective on the liquor industry, including Act 39 and the current political landscape ass the chair of the Pennsylvania House Liquor Control Committee. He is also a Republican who serves District 60 (including parts of Armstrong, Butler, and Indiana counties).
PLBTA: Thinking back to your first elected position, what motivated you to run for a public position?
JP: I thought I could improve the lives of the people who lived here, and will keep trying.
PLBTA: What made you particularly interested in chairing the House Liquor Control Committee?
JP: It was the best of what was offered to me, and I felt that I had experience that would translate well.
PLBTA: 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?
JP: I worry about small businesses not being able to adapt to changing markets. If all those old businesses cited faded away because they did the same things over and over, that should be a lesson to us all.
PLBTA: Do you have a Committee agenda for this legislative session? Are there issues that you see as needing change in the system to make it more workable or efficient?
JP: Act 39 was a profound change in how PA buys its beer. With the act, being so new, there have been unintended consequences. Dealing with those unintended consequences is my agenda. We deal with those as they arise, and frequently, they come from business. We are always open to listening and to trying to fix problems. What people need to realize is that Act 39 is not going away. It is not productive to just snipe at Act 39 all the time. Give us solutions that you need. That is where we come in.
PLBTA: Passage of Act 39 forced many changes in the retail liquor industry, with unintended consequences for many licensees. Taverns are facing more competition than ever before. Do you anticipate the Liquor Control Committee looking at the impacts of that legislation and making changes to help level the playing field for all licensees?
JP: Again, Act 39 is not going away, and we keep an open-door policy for anyone in the liquor business. If they have specific solutions other than “Act 39 sucks,” I am willing to listen.
PLBTA: One result of Act 39 has been delays in timely beer deliveries due to the expansion and universal availability of beer at large retailers and convenience stores, which were not in the beer business prior to the Act. At times, bar owners find themselves out of supplies, but current law doesn’t allow tavern owners to pick up beer when they are short through no fault of their own. Would you support legislation that would allow tavern owners to pick up limited amounts of brewed and malt beverages when they run out?
JP: Yes, I would, and in fact, that is a piece of legislation that we are currently developing. It is because of issues like this that it is good to have an open relationship with the Tavern Association because this idea came directly from them.
PLBTA: Bar owners often pay servers and bartenders through the wage-tip structure that guarantees minimum wage through a combination of a tavern hourly wage and tips. They often can make more … $15, $20, $25 per hour. This structure helps the small business and the employee. Governor Wolf wants to change minimum wage rules, possibly going as high as $15/hour. Some worry that patrons will feel tipping is not necessary due to a higher wage. If this were to happen, it may actually cause servers and bartenders to make less. How do you feel about the wage-tip structure?
JP: I am fine with how wages and tips are structured. Increasing the minimum wage will have a devastating effect on tavern owners. I will not be voting for a raise in the minimum wage.
PLBTA: Everyone has their favorite restaurant, bar, or tavern. These establishments can be great places to gather with friends and family. Without specifically naming your favorite, what makes it so special that you keep going back? What stands out about it?
JP: Food, friends, and atmosphere is what keeps me going back to my local bars and taverns.
The above Q&A was republished from the June 2019 edition of Pennsylvania Observer, the official magazine of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association.