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Lawmakers could end long run of Pa. liquor stores

March 16, 1997

By RICHARD BELISLE

Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - State-run liquor stores, a Pennsylvania tradition since the demise of Prohibition, would come to an end if state lawmakers approve a plan to sell them off to private enterprise.

There are five state-owned stores in Franklin County, including two in Chambersburg, and one in Fulton County. The Franklin County stores bring in about $3.5 million a year, according to Molly McGowan, spokeswoman for the state Liquor Control Board in Harrisburg, Pa.

Gov. Tom Ridge will announce his plan this week, said gubernatorial aide David Kaszuba.

Ridge said in a speech in Chambersburg last week that Pennsylvanians don't want alcohol sold on every street corner.

They also want stricter enforcement of liquor laws and more education programs on alcohol abuse.

Ridge noted the irony that on one floor of the state Liquor Control Board office building staffers work to increase liquor sales while workers on another floor strive to curb alcohol abuse.

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Ridge has said his plan is conservative and feasible, but some state legislators aren't convinced.

"I have a lot of questions," said State Rep. Jeff Coy, D-Franklin. He wants to know how private licenses would be issued and if corporations could get more than one.

Coy points to the way liquor is sold in West Virginia, where convenient store companies have liquor franchises.

"Will the licenses be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis or through bidding?" he said.

Coy said he is also concerned about the jobs of state liquor store employees.

McGowan said the 655 state-owned liquor stores in Pennsylvania employ more than 3,100 full-time workers. The stores grossed more than $868 million in sales last year.

She said $42 million in net profits, $124 million in state liquor taxes and $51 million in state and local sales taxes were collected last year and turned over to the state's general fund.

She said another $13 million went into law enforcement of state liquor laws and $1.1 million to drug and alcohol abuse education programs.

Edwin Hoffman manages the state-owned liquor store on South Main Street in Chambersburg.

A 26-year employee, Hoffman said attempts to make the system private have come up before. "This time it's scary. I don't know what my future is going to be," he said.

John Manning, a prevention specialist with the Franklin/Fulton Drug and Alcohol Program, also has reservations about Ridge's proposal.

"I haven't heard of a lot of pluses about it,'' he said. "You have to be a certain age just to go into a state liquor store. On one hand the state wants zero tolerance for young people who drink and drive then they want to make it easier for kids to buy alcohol. It's a double message."

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