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Border booze: Liquor laws drive consumers to other states

By   /   June 21, 2013  /   5 Comments

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania’s laws regarding the purchase of liquor, wine and beer are frustrating to residents of the state and confusing, or laughable, to many visitors.

But yes, in the Keystone state it is still impossible – in the second decade of the 21st century – to buy a bottle of wine in the same establishment as a six-pack of beer. In fact, it’s impossible to buy a six-pack of beer and a case of beer in the same location.

Then there are the taxes. All liquor is subject to a 30 percent markup, the 18 percent “Johnstown Flood Tax” (despite the fact that Johnstown is has long been rebuilt — since the last major flood, in 1936) and the typical 6 percent state sales tax.

It’s no wonder that many Pennsylvanians flock across the border to Delaware to buy alcohol – even though doing so is technically against the law. We decided to find out exactly how many do it.


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Boehm can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.

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Eric is a reporter for Watchdog.org and former bureau chief for Pennsylvania Independent. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he enjoys great weather and low taxes while writing about state governments, pensions, labor issues and economic/civil liberty. Previously, he worked for more than three years in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, covering Pennsylvania state politics and occasionally sneaking across the border to Delaware to buy six-packs of beer. He has also lived (in order of desirability) in Brussels, Belgium, Pennsburg, Pa., Fairfield, Conn., and Rochester, N.Y. His work has appeared in Reason Magazine, National Review Online, The Freeman Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Examiner and elsewhere. He received a bachelor's degree from Fairfield University in 2009, but he refuses to hang on his wall until his student loans are fully paid off sometime in the mid-2020s. When he steps away from the computer, he enjoys drinking craft beers in classy bars, cheering for an eclectic mix of favorite sports teams (mostly based in Philadelphia) and traveling to new places.

  • Albert Brooks

    Glad you could join us. I notice you didn’t say anything about the selection in that Total Wine you shopped at. Care to comment now?

  • David Falchek

    Favorite lines: “We’re good to go.” and “Let’s go break the law.”

  • http://www.dpsinfo.com LaurieMann

    We live west of Pittsburgh, but unless we make the hour trip to Boardman, OH, we don’t leave the state just to buy alcohol. And, frankly, the beer selection and availability in Pennsylvania has exploded over the last few years, though not the wine selection (as of a few years ago, the state wine database could not handle multiple vintages of the same wine, something that’s not an issue in other states) But, whenever we do drive out of state, we almost always bring some beer and wine back that we just can’t find here. The selection is always better in places like Massachusetts, Vermont, New York and Virginia and the prices are generally slightly lower (though not substantially lower). And what do these states have in common? A much more open market on alcohol sales, permitting mail shipment of alcohol and NO STATE STORES. Except for taxation and regulation, I want the state out of the liquor business.

  • JohnRz

    Laurie, I’ve got a question. If someone came from Boardman OH to Pittsburgh would they find any products the didn’t have back home.?

    Only six plates in one half hour? I bet the stores on the Pa side of the line averaged more customers than that! I think if you want to do a story on the border bleed caused by the DELAWARE LOOPHOLE you should go to a store that sells big ticket items like electronics and appliances. Wendell Young nailed it. People near the border of all the contiguous states shop for everything there. Privatizing liquor won’t change that. That tiny state with it’s minuscule infrastructure costs will be like a tick on Pa.s tail til we close the loophole. Why doesn’t the Independent write about that?

    BTW; The Total Wines you shopped at will pay taxes to Delaware. Same as the store that you would like to open in Philly will.

  • Albert Brooks

    Try listening again. “In less then 10 minutes we counted half a dozen customers with Pennsylvania plates.” Of course it doesn’t have anything to do with convenience of having 4 times the selection of PA stores in stock or the service, just prices right John.

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