Harrisburg – As Republicans in the state Legislature look to expand Pennsylvania’s retail liquor and wine market, one current retail alcohol anathema is being examined for stricter enforcement: so-called “stop-and-go” locations in Philadelphia.
Operating on the fringes of the law – or blatantly outside of it – the convenience stores or delis have been nicknamed stop-and-gos because they sell beer and liquor sometimes in quantities as small as a single shot and often consumed on the premises or immediately outside the store. The establishments have also been reported for selling tobacco or alcohol to minors.
Many local residents and leaders consider them nuisance establishments, not only due to their abhorrence of the law, but also due to the crowd that frequents them.
“People are drinking shots in these establishments and they are outside drunk,” said state Rep. Maria Donatucci at a recent meeting of the state House Liquor Control Committee.
Donatucci is also the chairwoman of the Philadelphia delegation in the state House, a group that has recently started holding a series of hearings in Philadelphia about stop-and-gos and what can be done at the state level to combat their negative effects.
State Rep. Morgan Cephas said evaluating stop-and-go issues is important as the discussion of further loosening of Pennsylvania’s liquor laws gains traction in Harrisburg.
"With the loosening of laws regarding liquor sales, businesses have greater opportunities to expand commerce and product lines, however, we are experiencing some unintended consequences of changing the laws," Cephas said at the most recent hearing on April 6 in Philadelphia. "It remains critical for local and state agencies to keep a watchful eye on nuisance establishments that are taking advantage of loopholes."
At an earlier hearing held by the Philadelphia delegation, Rep. Stephen Kinsey said the issue is really about public safety.
"The residents of northwest Philadelphia, south Philadelphia, northeast Philadelphia and the entire city deserve to live their lives without the problems caused by stop-and-go issues," he said.
Rep. Adam Harris, chairman of the state House Liquor Control Committee, voiced his support recently for more state action to combat stop-and-go problems.
“I took over the chairmanship about six months ago and the issue of stop-and-gos was not something I was all that familiar with and I heard that from a lot of Philadelphia members,” he said. “I’m committed to doing all that we can to address that problem.”
One of the issues he noted with the current scheme that allows stop-and-go locations to operate in contravention of state law is the fact that current penalties for violating the law do not outweigh the monetary benefits of operating illegally.
“I would say (stop-and-go locations are) blatantly violating the law and thinking they are not going to get caught because there’s not enough enforcement and, even if they do get caught, it’s not a large fine,” Harris said. “They’re making money. They pay their fines and pay their lawyers and go about their business. We don’t want them to do that.”
He said there are ongoing discussions with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement inside the Pennsylvania State Police about how to increase enforcement and pass legislation to put more teeth in liquor law violation penalties. The Pennsylvania State Police’s Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement is the primary enforcer of the state’s liquor laws.
“It does seem like an enforcement issue,” Harris said. “(Liquor Control Enforcement) does not have enough officers on the ground and when they do write up a violation, it’s not enough to really penalize them.”
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has issued a brochure that encourages the public to make the board and liquor control officials aware of any problems with licensed establishments, who could be taken to task through an investigation, a court order forcing them to stop operations, the possibility of not having their license renewed through the PLCB, or through local means of eliminating liquor licenses in a particular municipality.
At least two more hearings are planned by the Philadelphia delegation on stop-and-gos.