Well I knew this day would come. Sort of.
The outdated dinosaur known as the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is starting to bend a little bit. For years in the state of Pennsylvania, wine and spirits could only be purchased in state owned liquor stores, which until recently were closed on Sundays. Because of early Quaker influence, PA is the strictest state in the nation for alcohol purchase. When I heard that wine was being sold at the local Wegman’s supermarket in Downingtown I had to go check this out for myself.
The PLCB is heading up this crusade to put these large vending machines in grocery stores all over the state. They are keeping a stronghold on the process as the machines are wired into Harrisburg. I was lucky to meet Dale from the PLCB who was kind enough to show me how it all worked. She is staffing the wine kiosk at Wegman’s for a month to get new users of this monstrosity comfortable with it.
Anyway, the selection of wine is actually pretty good. The marketing company (Pronto) has the display all prettied up w/ hi-res monitors and a nice looking display case. I was informed that a few patrons were a bit put out thinking that the wine they were purchasing was cold only to turn out it wasn’t. The machine only looks like a fridge.
So you just go to the menu on the screen and choose reds or whites and then scroll through the selections and find something you like. Most of the wines were at the $20 and below price point. There was a helpful ‘Learn More’ button for each wine that provided tasting notes and some food pairings. I picked out an inexpensive Malbec just so I could say I was one of the first to use this thing.
Once the selections are added to the shopping cart, the fun begins. There’s a slot to put your license/ID in, which is scanned by a live person in Harrisburg. Your identity is also verified by a camera to see if the person on your license is actually you. You are then required to blow into a breathalyzer to verify that you are not a sloppy drunk. Dale told me a few funny stories about people wandering over from the pub to buy wine and getting humiliated by the invisible voice from behind the curtain. There is a $1 surcharge added to the final total which goes for marketing.
All in all it wasn’t a horrible experience but a little too Big Brother-ish for me. The vending machine is only available from 9 to 9 on Monday through Saturday even though the store is open 24/7. These are the hours the the PLCB has decided to staff it from the capital.
Hey if you don’t like it, the State Store across the street at Ashbridge Square is open on Sunday …