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Street Talk: Haunted by spirits

A customer inside a Center City liquor store.

Metro file photo

Gifford Pinchot haunts Pennsylvania drinkers from the grave.


Pinchot, a teetotaling forester who became governor of Pennsylvania in 1923, was the architect of the bizarre liquor control system in our state – one that, by the way, deprived you of the ability to buy alcohol on Presidents Day – our stores were closed.


Pinchot crafted our state-controlled liquor monopoly in the waning days of Prohibition, in 1933, and he wanted to do everything he could to make it as hard as possible to buy alcohol in Pennsylvania.


It was he who pushed through what we’ve been living with ever since, the State Store system and government monopoly on liquor sales.

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You can get a good sense of where his heart was from a 1933 piece he wrote for the Rotarian magazine, which includes the following point: “The saloon must not be allowed to come back.”


And now, for the umpteenth time, our leaders in Harrisburg are about to do battle over the system.


Today, the Republicans in the House are expected to try to push a bill through committee that would set us on the road to privatization.


They tried that in 2013 too, but the state senate said no.


Now, the new governor, Tom Wolf, seems pretty resistant to this change too.


He favors the modernization of state stores, among other things.


The battle lines are clear.


So we remain mired in the system that Gifford wrought, like the fact that you go to one place for wine and liquor, a beer distributor for cases of beer, and a bar for a six pack.


Count yourself lucky that Pinchot’s saloon aspiration didn’t survive the ages.


There will be a quiz on this later, but we real Pennsylvanians have come to live with it, like we become accustomed to an ingrown toenail.


You kind of hate to suggest that anything is saner in New Jersey than it is in Penn’s Woods.

But a quick trip across the river would suggest that Jersey is more in line with most of western civilization on the booze front.

We walked into a hanger-size liquor store in Jersey the other day, just to size things up. If you live in nearby Pennsylvania, you’ve done it too, because way down deep in your soul you think its a heckuvalot cheaper there.


Indeed, a fellow in the know there told us that at least 50 percent of their customers are from Pennsylvania, even though he doesn’t think his prices are much cheaper.


Actually, it’s a mixed bag, according to our very unscientific survey. Jack Daniels, a best seller in Pennsylvania, is about a buck cheaper here than in Jersey. But Capt. Morgan rum, also a top seller, is a good deal cheaper in Jersey.


What you can do there, though, is get the whole works. No stopping at three different places to get everything your party needs.


Thanks a bunch Gifford.


 
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