Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My Grandfather Was an Atlantic City Rum-runner; I Drive to Delaware

Genealogy is a hobby of mine, in part born from listening to my family telling stories during holiday dinners. Recently, while gathering some information about my mother's family, she told me that she'd recently heard from her sister--my aunt--that their father--my grandfather--was a rum-runner.

My grandfather could make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs

"What?" My mother was not aware of this.

"Well," my aunt said, "remember when Uncle Joe would yell at [his kids], and dad would say, 'Hey, lay off, we did worse things when we were their age'? Well, that's the 'worse thing'--he ran alcohol between Atlantic City and Philadelphia during Prohibition."

Apparently he could get from AC to Philly in about an hour--keep in mind, this was before the AC Expressway.

Actually, that may have been in his favor.

So aside from a certain pride in having a small-time criminal in my family--and apparently my step-great-grandmother did a similar thing up in Brooklyn, because who's going to question a nice old German lady with a derringer in her pocket?--this knowledge put me in mind of something else.

Pennsylvania wants to privatize its liquor stores. And even me, the flaming liberal, is all for it, because I'm tired of driving down to Delaware in order to get a decent price and selection.

Two years ago, my husband and I took a road trip through New York and New England. While staying around Lake George, I had to run into a Rite Aid for some deodorant. There I saw a thing unimaginable in Pennsylvania:

What is this I don't even...

Beer! Cases of beer! For sale in a drugstore! That last irony not lost on me, I stared, in awe of a state where I could buy beer in the same place I could pick up a Vicodin prescription, condoms, Cheetos, and suntan lotion.

In Pennsylvania, you can only get the last four in one store. Well, you might get Cheetos at the beer distributor. But for the most part, you can't sell beer in grocery stores or drugstores, unless the grocery store has a restaurant--which essentially means "Only in Wegmans and Sheetz". And while I love Wegmans' beer selection (and, well, everything else they sell), the closest one is about ten miles away.

Yeah, you can't really just walk into a grocery store and pick up a six pack, much less a case. It's very rare. And supposedly the state wants to change that.

Or do they?

Socially conservative lawmakers who want to tamp down alcohol consumption also could oppose the bill.

Turzai has argued that Pennsylvanians pay high prices for a low selection, while the state's dual roles of selling alcohol and enforcing drunken driving and alcohol laws represent a conflict of interest.

Under his bill, the state would auction off 1,250 retail licenses - 750 to big retailers such as supermarkets, and the rest to smaller enterprises.
So what worries me--because as far as I know, there aren't any actual bills--is the idea that socially conservative lawmakers will privatize the system--but only allow a small number of stores.  If we're going to privatize, let's throw open the doors. Let me buy beer at Rite Aid if I want. Let the bars stay open till 4 am if they want. Don't make me drive to Delaware to buy wine or scotch at a more reasonable price--let me buy wine at the grocery store.

When I worked in retail, I had to card kids buying cigarettes or porn. It's no different carding them for alcohol. The people of Pennsylvania aren't children, we can take care of ourselves. We can buy beer on Sundays without becoming alcoholics, and we can buy wine at the grocery store just like people in other states. It works elsewhere around the country--why not here?

I get the revenue argument, and I get the union argument--those are separate issues, and worth considering, especially how the state would make up the lost revenues if they gave up the state stores. But what I don't like is the argument--which I've heard often in this state--that if we allow people to buy alcohol outside of a strictly regulated system run by the state government, chaos will rule and the state will be overtaken by a drunken orgy.

If only.


Leslie Gatchel said...

I always knew you came from a family of degenerates. Why this suprised you I'll never know. Haha. I love this blog post and couldn't agree more. PA needs to get their noses out of our liquor cabinets period.

Hapless Kiwi said...

Iowa did this change roughly 20 years ago-and last I heard (not living there currently), the sun still rises, and the people continue to do their jobs most of the time. We went from going to the one liquor store in the county to your '5 items' example-although to be fair, that was at the local grocery which had a pharmacist in it.

So, the good news is, if Iowa can change, I'm sure Pennsylvania can too.