A word from Craig LaBan on the PLCB

As a final installment from my interview with Philadelphia Inquirer dining critic Craig LaBan, I’ve decided to share his thoughts about the Commonwealth’s Liquor Control Board and its, more times than not, confounding state of atrophy.

I think you may agree: The man gives a valid assessment of the food and drink scenes in and around our city. Here he is, in his own words, responding to my question, “Should the LCB system be changed?”

“Of course it should be changed! It’s terrible. Anybody who has lived or spent time in California or even Delaware or New York or Chicago or any free market state knows this is a weird place to want to drink wine. Even though the state has made great strides in a lot of cases…trying to improve the look of the stores, the selection is actually pretty vast but you need to be totally self-educated because there’s no consumer aspect to the experience of shopping.

Will it be changed? I don’t think it will…I’ll believe it when I see it…I think the political forces and interests are so great in the state that that’ll be almost impossible to do. I’m not a political reporter but I’ve talked to enough chairmen over the years who told me that they doubted it could ever be done.”

When asked about the state store in Garces Trading Company: “If (the PLCB) created more retail spaces like that and just stocked them with people who knew and cared and felt even a shred of passion about a grape that would be wonderful. But right now I find shopping in the state stores is like going to Wawa or CVS. It’s no fun until you get home and drink.”

Lest anyone segregate all perceived issues to Pennsylvania, LaBan pointed out that the other side of the river has its limitations too: “In Cherry Hill, people pay more than a million to be around that mall area or the Wegmans area and that has an equally stifling effect because you just go for the most commercial stuff to make all your money and it’s all kind of a Bennigan’s type of wine list – with some exceptions.”

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