Armed with powerful lobbyists, union stonewalls liquor privatization in Pennsylvania

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If you want to buy booze in Pennsylvania, you’ll likely do it the way your great grandparents did.

Getting a spiced rum or a good Riesling here means a trip to one of about 600 so-called state stores. While there’ve been efforts to bring them into the mainstream of contemporary marketing, where design is concerned they’re inescapably Mid-Century Institutional — mostly generic shops with antiseptic white lighting, often identified outside by a simple sign proclaiming “Wine & Spirits.” The public employees who run them don drab aprons at the checkout.

Those who want a frothy craft beer will have no luck in the state stores. Instead, they’ll have to go to a warehouse-like beer distributor that can sell only cases and 12 packs. Six-packs? You buy those in so-called bottle shops or bars. Some grocery stores have been allowed to sell demon alcohol — as long as customers buy the booze in a special checkout line.

For five years, some Pennsylvania Republicans have worked to end the state’s monopoly on retail and wholesale wine and spirits sales and to allow one-stop shops for beer, wine and liquor. And for five years they’ve failed, running up against Wendell Young IV, president of the United Food And Commercial Workers Local 1776, which represents about 3,500 state-store employees.

Young and his organized labor allies are so successful in maintaining a nearly century-old system that they crushed privatization efforts even when the GOP controlled both chambers of the General Assembly and the governor’s office.

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