Buoyed by the reopening of its Mountain Top store, sales at the 20 state liquor/wine stores in Luzerne County rose 3 percent in the most recent fiscal year, but gains were dampened by the Freeland store closing and the temporary closure of a Wilkes-Barre store for renovations.
Sales in the county’s state stores totaled $50 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, an increase of $1.6 million from the prior fiscal year. While wine and spirit sales were up countywide, five retail outlets reported a dip in annual sales, including a 15 percent drop for the store along South Main Street in Wilkes-Barre, which closed for two months in the late summer of 2012 for renovations.
There was also an 83 percent, or $273,289, drop at the store on Centre Street in Freeland. That store, which liquor control board spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman said had seen “very slow sales for a number of years,” closed Sept. 8.
The May reopening of the Mountain Top store, which relocated from one part of the Weis Shopping Plaza to a larger space on the other side of the center, resulted in $329,184 in sales over a span of less than two months.
Looking at stores open during both fiscal years, the largest sales increase by percentage was reported by the store along the San Souci Parkway in Hanover Township, which registered a 7.8 percent, or $153,409, hike in sales. The largest increase in total dollars was a gain of $447,422 reported by the store in the Wilkes-Barre Township Commons off Highland Park Boulevard.
Sales statewide increased, though less than locally. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board announced this week several records were established in the 2012-13 fiscal year including sales, revenue and the amount of sales and liquor taxes collected.
In a release, the PLCB credited strong wine sales as one factor, noting a 6 percent increase. The sale of spirits was up 3.7 percent and overall sales were up 1.4 percent. The boost in sales produced a boost in state revenue, too. About $311 million was collected through the liquor tax, and $121 million in sales tax was paid.
On top of those taxes, the PLCB must pay $80 million to the state’s general fund this year, an amount set by Gov. Tom Corbett during the budget process. Corbett, an outspoken critic of the state’s involvement in the liquor business, has been unsuccessful so far in getting Pennsylvania out of it.
It’s one of only two states that still controls the liquor industry. The other is Utah.
Corbett pushed his liquor privatization plan throughout the budget process, but the state House and the Senate, both controlled by his Republican Party, could not agree on a plan. It is still something many in both chambers believe will be revisited this session.
Instead of figuring out ways to sell off the liquor system, House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, a Clarks Summit native, said the system should be congratulated and given the power to modernize itself.
“The wine and spirits stores are a resounding success story for Pennsylvania taxpayers. The state employees who made this happen should be congratulated. With more freedom to modernize the system of wine and liquor sales, they could increase profits even more while maintaining protections against illegal sales,” said Dermody, D-Oakmont.
Sales growth and operational expense control at the state’s 600 wine and spirit shops resulted in revenues of $2.17 billion. Net income stood at $128.4 million, a $24.9 million, or 24 percent, increase over the prior fiscal year. Gross margin increased to 31.15 percent compared to last year’s level of 30.88 percent. Through continued cost control and reviews, agency operating expenses remained essentially flat at $387.5 million.
The Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Harrisburg, issued a statement saying the bulk of the LCB’s profit was generated by taxes, and the record revenues and sales only tell part of the story.
“Privately owned liquor stores would produce the same revenue or more, as private companies pay additional taxes and licensing fees,” the organization argued.