What’s Going on with Liquor Sales in Pennsylvania?

Dear Client: 

In mid-March, government officials began taking bigger steps to flatten the curve of the pandemic, which included shutting down non-essential businesses, including bars and restaurants. 

For the most part, liquor stores and bev alc production and distribution made the ‘essential businesses’ lists nationwide. But Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf ordered the shutdown of its 600 state-run liquor stores including online sales. 

The governor and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) received immediate backlash from trade groups and state residents. As a result, the agency resumed limited sales on its website on April 1. The PLCB only accepts a controlled number of orders per day, limits consumers to purchasing up to six bottles per transaction from a reduced catalogue and only fulfills one order per address per day [see WSD 04-02-2020].

But Pennsylvanians are still making booze runs to neighboring states. 

The Distilled Spirits Council highlighted data from A.C. Nielsen in a recent release showing the average increase for spirits sales was greater in states neighboring Pennsylvania compared to the national average. 

The national average increase for spirits sales for the week ended March 28 was about 27%. Ohio saw spirits sales increase 60%, West Virginia 32% and Maryland 28%.   

“Consumers continue to flock to neighboring states despite COVID-19 concerns,” said DISCUS chief Chris Swonger. “Following the lead of other control states and opening brick and mortar stores, even on a limited basis, would help address demand and can be done in a way that protects consumers and employees. We sincerely hope Governor Wolf will reconsider his decision to shut down all Fine Wine and Good Spirits stores.”

On Monday, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine clamped down on liquor store sales to Pennsylvanians by ordering liquor stores in the six Ohio counties closest to Pennsylvania –Ashtabula, Trumbull, Mahoning, Columbiana, Jefferson and Belmont– to only sell liquor to customers with Ohio IDs, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  

“Any other time we would love to have visitors from Pennsylvania,” said Gov. DeWine at a news conference, “but during this time, those who are coming in to buy liquor are creating a health hazard.”

Not to mention, a PLCB spokesman said it’s illegal to bring alcohol into the state “unless it is purchased at a licensed out-of-state winery or licensed out-of-state distillery or through a direct wine shipper or a direct malt or brewed beverage licensee.” Notice liquor stores weren’t included on that list.

PRIVATIZATION TALKS RENEWED. The liquor store closures have also sparked renewed interest in privatizing liquor retail sales. 

A petition was posted on Change.org earlier this month, calling on Gov. Tom Wolf to re-open the liquor stores and allow licensed on-premise establishments to sell wine, beer and spirits or “abolish the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board once and for all.” 

As of press time, the petition had almost 5,000 signatures. 

“I think [privatization is] definitely on the table going forward at some point because people will be acutely aware of the inconvenience and by budget time, they’ll be acutely aware of the drop in revenue,” said House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, per PennLive.  


Governors are banding together to coordinate regional efforts to begin to ease restrictions on COVID-19 containment measures. 

On the west coast, Washington, Oregon and California governors said yesterday they will coordinate plans for post-pandemic economic reopening. 

“COVID-19 has preyed upon our interconnectedness: In the coming weeks, the West Coast will flip the script on COVID-19 with our states acting in close, coordinated collaboration to ensure the virus can never spread wildly in our communities,” tweeted Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday.

“In this phase where we see a light at the end of the tunnel… that this too shall pass, it is also perhaps the most difficult and challenging phase of all,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom, per Newsweek. No timeline was shared, but don’t expect to see any large scale events in the summer months. 

Similarly, on the east coast, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts governors will also develop a coordinated plan. Though the states will ultimately make their own decisions on when to reopen, according to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, per CNBC. 


On Monday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered the state Liquor Control Commission to start a spirits buyback program for bars and restaurants to provide relief for the on-premise amidst COVID-19 containment measures, reports a local publication. 

The MLCC is to use its revolving fund to buy spirits remaining in inventory from on-premises liquor licensees that purchased the products prior to March 16 – the date on-premise was officially shuttered in the state. 

Moreover, licensees approved for the program have until 90 days after the state’s emergency disaster declarations are lifted to re-purchase the spirits from the MLCC. 

“Michigan’s 8,500 on-premises liquor licensees continue to make unprecedented sacrifices to help slow the spread of COVID-19 across our state,” said Gov. Whitmer. “This buy-back program will help our bars and restaurants critical to Michigan’s economy weather the storm through this challenging time in our history.”

You may recall, Ohio announced a liquor buyback program last month, and the TTB is allowing products purchased for cancelled events to be lawfully returned. 


BUFFALO TRACE DISTILLERY RELEASES KOSHER WHISKEY. Buffalo Trace Distillery is releasing a Kosher Whiskey under the guidance of the Chicago Rabbinical Council. It is available in three styles; Kosher Rye Recipe Bourbon, Kosher Wheat Recipe Bourbon, and Kosher Straight Rye Whiskey. They will start shipping the three expressions after Passover on April 16, 2020. The limited release line will be available at a suggested retail price of $40 each. 

19 CRIMES PARTNERS WITH SNOOP DOGG. Treasury Wine Estates’ 19 Crimes has announced a multi-year partnership with Snoop Dogg. They are kicking off the partnership with 19 Crimes first California wine, Snoop Cali Red, which will be available this summer. The line expansion will cast a temporary lens on 19 Crimes, per a release. “Snoop Dogg, an entertainment and California icon, is the perfect partner for 19 Crimes Snoop Cali Red,” says TWE marketing vp, Americas John Wardley. “Snoop embodies the spirit of 19 Crimes – rule breaking, culture creating and overcoming adversity. We are truly excited to partner with Snoop and welcome him to the 19 Crimes family.”

REDNECK RIVIERA NOW IN RITE AID STORES. Oregon-based Eastside Distilling has expanded distribution for its Redneck Riviera Whiskey to 251 Rite Aid stores throughout the state of California. The Rite Aid shelf sets are expected to be placed in the month of May, per a release. 

Until tomorrow,

“I’m spending a year dead for tax reasons.” – Douglas Adams 

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