Little guy caught up in churn of LCB tide
By Eric Heyl
When they're learning how to swim, most people prefer placid pools over hazardous rapids.
Daniel Erb jumped into the river realizing the waters just ahead probably would be raging.
Erb recently became a beer distributor after spending 15 years in the health care field. He now will attempt to navigate what promises to be the swift, unpredictable currents caused by the latest plan to privatize the state's liquor stores, currents that could turn his business upside down.
“I knew something like this was probably going to happen,” said Erb, 39, who opened Grandview Distributing in Mt. Washington a little over a month ago. “But sure, I'm a little apprehensive.”
No reason he shouldn't feel that way. Starting a business in an industry guaranteed immediate uncertainty and potentially significant upheaval would make just about anyone anxious.
Gov. Tom Corbett announced on Wednesday that he wants to generate $1 billion for education by closing the state liquor stores and selling licenses to private store owners and beer distributors, enabling them to carry wine and spirits. That would bring Pennsylvania not only in line with virtually every other state in the nation, but also the 21st-century consumer delivery mode for alcohol.
So naturally, there's opposition.
Objecting are state legislators on both sides of the aisle and organized labor. Complaints range from the potential loss of 5,000 unionized liquor store positions to the possibility that people in rural areas would have an insufficient number of places to pursue a bottle of Jack Daniel's on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Monitoring the situation closely are small businessmen such as Erb, who last summer decided to take a chance and purchased the Grandview Avenue building that formerly housed the C.A. Ault distributorship. A mount mainstay for decades, Ault's closed its doors about three years ago.
Erb spent about $100,000 to buy the building, another $47,000 on the liquor license and considerable sweat equity in sprucing up the building himself to make people comfortable about coming there. If Corbett's plan goes through, he likely will have to spend an additional $150,000 on an enhanced distributor license that would enable him to sell wine and six-packs of beer instead of just cases of the beverage. He also would have the option of bidding on a license that would permit him to stock liquor.
Erb said he would have to review the proposal in greater detail before deciding whether he favors it, but he admits to being intrigued by the possibility of offering an expanded selection of products. He predicts Corbett's plan ultimately will be approved “because I think a majority of people think we have a backward system, and they'd like greater convenience.”
Erb hopes to provide that convenience. Corbett hopes to provide a modernized, consumer-friendly environment for alcohol sales. Whether those hopes will be realized remains to be seen.
When you're riding the rapids, there are no guarantees.
Eric Heyl is a staff writer for TribTotal Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or email@example.com.
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