Sunday, January 16, 2011

End of Prohibition, Beginning of PA State Stores

Bethlehem home of master brewer Johann Sebastian Goundie.
On January 2, 1934, the state store system for selling liquor to Pennsylvania residents went into effect. Three hundred state stores were authorized to sell liquor throughout the state by a three person Liquor Control Board. The “dry” or pro-prohibition Pennsylvania Governor, Gifford Pinchot, saw prohibition coming to an end so he pushed through the legislation of a state store system. Prohibition, which banned the manufacture, sale, transport and consumption of alcohol, went into effect on January 16, 1920 as the Eighteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. Over the next thirteen years the amendment became unpopular with the American people. To appeal prohibition, the U.S. Congress chose the route of state conventions to vote on ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment. The Pennsylvania state convention voted in favor of the appeal on December 5, 1933. Of the thirty-nine states only South Carolina voted against ending prohibition. To appease temperance organizations the amendment allowed for states to control alcohol sales within their boundaries.

      Since Gov. Pinchot’s time, a few Pennsylvania governors have attempted to end the state business of selling liquor. In 1974, Gov. Milton Shapp believed that the switch to privately-owned liquor stores would cut operating costs of the state Liquor Control Board and would provide more revenue for the state. He thought this change would make more brands available at lower prices and increase the number of liquor stores. In 1972, the Liquor Control Board commissioned a study to be done by a Philadelphia accounting firm. They found Pennsylvania was selling far less liquor per person than the neighboring states of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and New York where liquor outlets are privately owned and operated. Customers in these states paid less than they did in Pennsylvania.

      In 1981 Gov. Dick Thornburgh was also unable to convince the Pennsylvania Senate to consider a bill that would have allowed the privatization of the state liquor stores. Thornburgh blamed the unions for preventing the bill’s passage. Employees of the state stores must take civil service exams to qualify for employment. Depending on their position, they are represented by the unions of United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), the Independent State Store Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

      In 1997 Gov. Tom Ridge also failed to privatize the state liquor stores, during his terms of office. His plan was opposed by MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) and the state Council of Churches.

      The Moravians, who settled Bethlehem, permitted the consumption of alcohol amongst its members but encouraged moderation. Their “Community Ordinances” written in 1762 warned members to avoid excess drinking. The first tavern of the Lehigh Valley was Bethlehem's Crown Inn. Founded in 1745, it became so popular that the Moravians soon saw the need to build a new tavern. The Sun Inn, built in 1758, was stocked by the Moravians with the best wine and spirits available to the colonists.

      In 1803, the Moravians recruited Johann Sebastian Goundie, a master brewer from Offtersheim, Germany, to come to Bethlehem and brew traditional Bohemian-style lagers and ales. He became a well respected member of the Moravian community. His home, built in 1810, located at 501-505 Main Street, was the first brick house in town. The Historic Bethlehem Partnership restored the house as a museum and offers tours everyday except Mondays. Goundie was elected Bethlehem's first mayor in 1827.

     The Moravians, however, soon joined the temperance movement. In 1873, the American Synod of the Moravian Church voted to urge its members to abstain from drinking hard cider, beer, ale, whiskey, wine, brandy, gin, rum and patent bitters (medicines that contained small amounts of herbs and large amounts of alcohol.)

      During the years of prohibition, Bethlehem’s South Side became a hive of speakeasies and stills. The illegal activities attracted criminals from New York and New Jersey. The residents were ready to elect a mayor who could rid Bethlehem of corruption. They choose Robert Pfeifle in November of 1929. Within months of taking office, Mayor Pfeifle with the help of his newly appointed police commissioner, Frederick T. Trafford, began to close down the speakeasies in the South Side. In Mayor Pfeifle’s “Second Annual Message” of January 1931, he reported that the Bethlehem police had arrested 214 for violating liquor laws, closed 241 speakeasies, captured and destroyed 2,902 gallons of moonshine, 105 gallons of gin,159 barrels of mash, destroyed 25 stills and held 1,000 gallons of whiskey at police headquarters.

      Today, state stores employ over 2,200 store clerks and store managers in the 650 Wine and Spirits Stores located throughout the state. All taxes and revenues collected in the stores are transferred to the State Treasury. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is one of the largest purchasers of wine and spirits in the United States.


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  2. And some think drugs and corruption as a new problem...well done...thanks for sharing...your site is a good resource...THANX...RJR

  3. Nice post. Gives me a whole new perspective. Thanks

  4. One would have to have experience with the old LCB to appreciate things as they are today. At one time, there was little choice and no "self-service", plus, prices were terrible. At least the changes have brought the stores into the here and now. I say leave the system intact as long as choices, convenience and pricing are all competitive. Control is not a bad thing.

    1. I appreciate the comment from Jan 25, 2011 recognition of how the "State Store" system worked for a long time. Buying any form of alcohol in Pennsylvania has always been an unpleasant experience and the State Store was the apex of that unpleasantness. I also remember when the State Store was a small pamphlet of goods offered; you would tell a clerk what you wanted and you waited in a line for them to collect what you wanted in the back. They could force you to fill out worthless paperwork or refuse service without notice. Try explaining a system of buying a six-pack of beer, a case of beer, a keg of beer, a bottle of wine, and a bottle of liquor to anyone outside of Pennsylvania, they will look at you as you are from another world.