Pennsylvania liquor stores to increase prices on 422 items

Pennsylvania's system of state-owned liquor stores said Wednesday it will deploy its new authority to decide what prices to charge by increasing the cost of 422 items at the end of this month.

The Liquor Control Board said 393 of the increases will amount to $1 per bottle, and the vast majority will be less than 10 percent.

A 2016 state law gave the agency authority to raise prices for 150 of the top-selling brands of wine and the 150 most popular brands of spirits.

The agency has not increased prices since the early 1990s. The changes won't affect the use of sales prices and discounts that the stores regularly offer.

The higher prices drew criticism from a lobbyist for the Distilled Spirits Council, a national trade association of producers and marketers. David Wojnar, the council's vice president for government relations, said consumers would prefer more retail outlets to higher prices.

"The legislature and the PLCB should work together to better serve Pennsylvania consumers instead of trying to pick their pockets," Wojnar said.

PLCB communications director Elizabeth Brassell said the decision was made in the past few days by marketing and merchandising director Dale Horst, after consulting with executive director Charlie Mooney and the board .

The higher prices followed a review of costs in neighboring states, comparison with prices of competing products and analysis of what the market will bear.

Brassell said the agency considered raising prices on 496 items but narrowed the list after negotiating "cost concessions and considerations" with suppliers.

Before the 2016 law was enacted more than a year ago, the liquor board used a standard 31 percent markup.

The Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association predicted higher prices will lead more customers to buy wine and liquor from stores in neighboring states. The association said lawmakers should "rein the state monopoly in" or privatize the system.

"They've kind of cemented our philosophy that they can't operate an effective cost structure," said the association's president, John Longstreet. "In business, when you have excessive costs, you look for a way to reduce your costs, you can't always pass along your cost to consumers."