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Wine, liquor approved for shipping in Pennsylvania

| Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011

With no fanfare, the state Liquor Control Board began allowing people who order specialty wines and liquors from its website to have them shipped via UPS.

"This is something that has been debated and discussed through hearings and public discussions," board spokeswoman Stacey Witalek said on Tuesday. "It's certainly not something that was done behind closed doors."

Until Nov. 21, customers who ordered any of the 2,000 to 3,000 products had to pick them up at a state store. Shipping costs $14 for one to three bottles; it's an extra dollar for each additional bottle.

Witalek said if the pilot program proves successful during the next few months, it could expand to include other products.

She said the board is working with UPS Inc. to ensure that the alcohol doesn't fall into the hands of minors. An adult 21 or older must sign for the alcohol and produce valid identification. Third-party orders have to be picked up in stores.

UPS will treat the packages like any others, Witalek added. If delivery is unsuccessful three times, a customer must pick it up at a UPS facility.

"We have the same level of concern when someone purchases alcohol from a store," Witalek said. "We have every safeguard to the extent that we can to keep access from a minor. Once in the hands (of an adult), we have to hope they are as responsible as we have been in delivering the product to them."

But Joe Panzino, executive director of Onala Recovery Center in the city's West End, has concerns about people not having to leave their homes to buy alcohol.

"How do you know they're not trying to kill themselves with alcohol poisoning?" Panzino said. "Maybe they haven't been sober for a month. It's just a proliferation in our society of profit at all costs, but you have a human cost here."

State House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, a Republican from Bradford Woods who is pushing the state to privatize the state liquor store system, said he's in favor of producers being able to ship products directly to their customers.

"We don't need the LCB being the middleman," Turzai said, pointing to additional costs and markups, including the regular 6 percent sales tax and the 18 percent Johnstown Flood Tax.

Previously, only wineries that did not sell more than 200,000 gallons of alcoholic ciders, wines and wine coolers annually could ship directly to homes. The products affected by the change are those in the state stores' inventory but not found on shelves. Two examples include an Angelo Gaja Sori Tilden 2005 wine for $200, and a Casa Dragones Tequila Joven sipping tequila for $250.

On Cyber Monday, Witalek said, customers ordered 663 bottles of alcohol through the website. That's triple last year's total, when only store pickup was available. Witalek couldn't say how many of this year's orders were going directly to homes.

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