State Stores: Why Are They So Ugly?

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Jay Ostrich flags this story about the PLCB moving a downtown Honesdale liquor store to a 60%-more-expensive location in a mall 3 miles out of town. Business owners are mad that the store was moved without a public hearing. The story highlights the difference in how a state-run store behaves, versus a privately-owned store. If this was a private store, there’d be no need for a public hearing over a location change. But a private store also probably wouldn’t have moved due to such a large increase in overhead.

I have a different point to make, which is probably pretty far down on the long list of good reasons to privatize alcohol sales. When you look at many of the state stores in the downtown areas of many of PA’s older core cities, one thing you notice is that many are very ugly. Many are in ugly buildings, the interior design is way out of date, etc. A private liquor store owner in a competitive market would pay more attention to this kind of stuff, but a state monopoly doesn’t think like that.

The reason this matters is that a lot of PA’s older cities are trying to revitalize their downtowns, and one way they’re trying to do this is through facade repairs and other beautification efforts. Obviously the number of state liquor stores in a downtown is going to be pretty small – one or two at most – but it’s just lame to see state-owned buildings detracting from downtown beautification efforts, instead of helping them.

That said, one reason the PLCB’s not spending tens of millions of dollars on rehabbing their storefronts is because conservative politicians and media outlets like the Commonwealth Foundation would make political hay out of that, as an example of wasteful spending. I don’t think it would be totally wasteful, as there would be spillover benefits for land values of nearby properties, but I’d still prefer to see private liquor store owners spend private dollars on that instead of the taxpayers.

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