Blogger Lew Bryson Brings The Smack-Down on PLCB Chair Patrick Stapleton In NPR Interview

Vinted on March 29, 2011 binned in PLCB, wine shipping

Yesterday, posted one of the latest Radio Times episodes in which host Marty Moss-Coane interviews PLCB Chair Patrick Stapleton and anti-PLCB Blogger Lew Bryson.  The two face off for a short time, and Lew delivers a bit of a smack-down.  Several callers also mentioned that PA seems to have one of the most bizarre sets of alcohol sales and distribution laws that they’ve ever seen, and challenged several of Stapleton’s assumptions (hats off to ‘em!).  The interview triggered the recently-dormant anti-PLCB genes that I have oozing around in my DNA.

Personally, I was flabbergasted by some of the statements that came out of Stapleton’s mouth during this interview, because they demonstrate what feels like a rather serious lack of respect that the PLCB seems to have for its own customers; customers who, it seems, the PLCB would prefer don’t (or, perhaps, they assume aren’t intelligent enough to) refer to things that might give them a different view on PA wine sales than that being painted by the PLCB.  You know, pesky and irrelevant things, like facts.

My take on some of Stapleton’s statements from the interview are below after the jump, along with the podcast stream of the full NPR episode. I feel a rant coming on… you’ve been warned…

In terms of deconstructing some of the madness in this NPR interview, let’s start with the case of why PLCB store employees have a perception of being unhelpful and lacking even basic knowledge of the products that they sell.  According to Stapleton, the PLCB is legally hog-tied and has to hire an incompetent workforce; Stapleton actually blames the hiring system for the sad state of customer service within the current state-run alcohol sales system (you know, those people who claim that Cabernet Franc doesn’t exist) – all quotes are transcribed directly from the interview, by the way:

Relief from civil service would be a huge step up for us.”

Let me get this straight: somehow, it’s easier to change state legislation than train the PLCB workforce?  That is such a sad conclusion that words fail to convey how ridiculous the situation truly is.

Lew (as well as some of the show’s callers) asked he obvious question: why not just privatize, Patrick?  Two reasons, apparently:

  1. “We produce a good revenue base for the Commonwealth” – This totally ignores the fact that the PLCB is run so inefficiently that it’s profit is an abysmally low percentage of its income. I won’t even start on Stapleton’s take on how damaging privatization would be to the PA state coffers – there’s already quite a bit written to counter that argument.
  2. “The peer-reviewed scientific literature on the subject… indicate clearly that there are fewer problems related to the sale of wine and spirits in a control state environment… these are facts that are born out not only in Pennsylvania but all over the world.”  This is, simply put, a lie – or at least, that’s the view that any reasonable person should come to when they consider the actual facts: Pennsylvania’s underage drinking rate remains above average for the 50 U.S. states (… ) and the Commonwealth remains above average in DUI fatalities per mile driven (… ). Sadly, Stapleton comes back to the abuse/protection angle time and again in this interview, which I think demonstrates how feeble the pro-PLCB argument is quickly becoming.

It’s tough to blame PA residents I think, if they conclude that the PLCB is not only lying to them but also isn’t delivering on all of its promises or potential value for money. Or, as one of the NPR show’s callers put it, the PLCB has had 75 years to sort this out, why should PA state residents assume that they will suddenly get their act together?  Simple: they shouldn’t.

NPR Podcast: Lew Bryson Brings The Smack-Down on PLCB Chair Patrick Stapleton





  • 1WineDude

    Thanks, Carl. I've been fighting this battle on-and-off for… well, for years and the combo. of union, taxes, lobbying money, and other similar stuff means we are in for literally a generations-long battle here to move to an actual free-market, non-monopoly system…

  • John Cesano

    PA's ridiculous lack of availability and exorbitant pricing caused me to bring my wine in with me on business trips, or refrain from consumption. Taxes collected on free market sales is better than taxes not collected due to lost sales.

    • 1WineDude

      Amen, John!

  • Tom

    This is a subject that could go on ad infinitum, if not ad nauseum. Bluntly put, the PLCB is the biggest snow job ever perpetrated on the people of the Keystone State. Anti-Wine, Anti-Customer, Anti-American. What a rip-off! Joe, you have only tapped the tip of this iceberg.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Tom – I know it, and apparently so do the PA state residents, at least judging by the callers who chimed in during that NPR show. Cheers!

  • 1WineDude

    Tod – HA!!!

    I should note here that I had intended to do a kiosk vid post, but it coincided with the sort of "on hold/recall" that happened statewide on those; I thought I'd have another opportunity soon but my understanding from some insiders (who need to remain anonymous) is that the entire kiosk program might get shelved.

  • Todd - VT Wine Meida

    hang in there..the PLCB is tenacious…you may still get your chance, but I'm willing ot bet the selection will be even more depressing than usual…

    • 1WineDude

      Ah, PLCB + Walmart… Resistance is futile… you WILL be assimilated…

  • PAWineGuy

    The civil service exemption has been tried repeatedly in the past and has been rejected. I would not downplay its significance, as it would allow them to hire actual wine people, not just hope some of their clerks develop a love of wine.

    I do fear that momentum is now lost and the unions and PLCB will gain back their traction. It's just hard to make the votes add up – they'd have to basically get 100% of the Republican votes, and that won't be easy.

    The Kiosk program may die, but only if Rendell's buddy's company goes bankrupt.

    • 1WineDude

      @PAWineGuy – Isn't the fact that they need to hire arguably unqualified workers yet another potential justification for privatization, not for changing PA union hiring practices or seeking exemptions?

  • 1WineDude

    FYI, all – Lew's coverage and his take on the interview is available now at

  • Mark Cochard

    Corbett wants the legislature to vote on privatization this this year.

    Profits transferred to the state coffers in 2009 were $105,000,000 on sales of almost 2 Billion. The Purchase value of wines and sprits that PLCB purchased was just over a billion. Wow they turned over to the state only 10% of the billion they took in in sales. But you also have to add in the 271 million they took in for the 1936 Johnstown Flood Relief Tax now conveniently called the 18% liquor tax as well as 6% sales tax of 112 million.
    Here is a link to PLCB facts and figures

    • 1WineDude

      Hey Mark – The tax revenue would stick around under most of the privatization measures that have been put forward. As for the meager return – I cannot think of ONE instance of ANY business that would survive in a free market system shouldering such inefficiencies; they HAVE to have the monopoly status and state protection to be able to bungle things up that badly and remain in business.

  • Mark Cochard

    Joe, Of course the tax revenue would stay around and My understading is that the state marks everything up 30% to start with.

    If you read throughtsome of the reports one lists the revenues by individual store annually and average by month. We do more in one day then some of these stores do in a month. They are hanging on to stores that can not turn a proft after expenses.

    • 1WineDude

      Understood, Mark – not all the stores are losers. But what company in a free market would normally hang on to those stores that are losing serious money? It's nuts.

  • Albert Brooks

    What most people forget or don't even know about is that without the so called "bottle fee" (LTMF) the PLCB wouldn't be able to turn in ANY money to the general fund. It's an extra 110 million (give or take) they collect. So it isn't just the 30% they can't manage it is more like 35% averaged out. See the fine work by the PLCB Users Group Nathan Lutchansky here:

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Albert. I'm even more frightened for the future of wine sales in PA now…!

  • Joe

    Isn't the 30% markup about the same exact markup you'd see in ANY free market retail store? The store owner's buy the wine at "wholesale" and then they mark up the wine about 30-35% to a retail price point. At least that is my understanding.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm ready for the PLCB-dinosaur to go extinct but I am looking for clarification on some of the numbers I see thrown out. The systems is so screwed up it gets confusing. Yes, privatize the system and you'll get better service and selection. But won't we still be saddled with the huge additional "Flood Tax" of 16%? That will still make crossing the border more attractive…but I one battle at a time I suppose.


  • Jon

    "what company in a free market would normally hang on to those stores that are losing serious money? It's nuts. " Well Albert Brooks Forest City store is a losing money store and He is ANTI PLCB but, becaues of the PLCB there is a store in the small village of Forest City so there is no inconvenience on the people to travel to surrounding towns/cities. Seems like there is always 2 sides to every coin/argument. My biggest concern w/ the privatization is what will happen if the money generated is not the same? Higher taxes or new taxes (food clothing)?? Anyways, it seems to me if anyone who slightly defends or points out atleast something postivie your deemed evil lol or a PLCB employee.

    • 1WineDude

      Jon – of course there are multiple angles to all of this. I don't discount that there are positives to the PLCB, one of them being generally lower prices on some wines due to the PLCB's buying power. The biggest question of all in this, I think, is – do the positives of privatization outweigh the potential negative tradeoffs? I think the answer is Yes.

  • CCE

    Glad to see that finally there is some real debate about state controlled liquor sales. This antiquated, failed system is why government should get out of the way and let the free market get to work. PLCB officials have the most LAME excuses for continuing this charade. When they spout off with their paltry reasons why the constituents of PA should be so grateful and indebted to them, it is apparent that even they don't believe what they are saying. Frankly, I don't know of one person who is happy with the PLCB system. BAD reputation – especially when you get out to California vineyards and wine stores – they just roll their eyes when you tell them you live in Pennsylvania. That's saying something when the queen of NANNY states think PLCB sucks!!

    • 1WineDude

      CCE – Well… AMEN!!! :)

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