Pennsylvania is one of 19 states which in some way have a monopoly over retail and/or wholesale sales of liquor, beer and/or wine. The specifics of Pennsylvania’s law is often baffling to the out of state visitor and can cause many inconveniences for the traveler coming to the Laurel Highlands.
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The worst aspect of Pennsylvania’s effort to protect its citizens from the “demon spirit” is their total monopoly on the sale of liquor and wine. For you touristas, that means you cannot buy a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer in a grocery store or a gas station as you can in many states. This would be but a minor inconvenience if there were a reasonable number of liquor stores run by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, however the fact is that the entire state of Pennsylvania has only 621 retail outlets. That averages out to 1 store in every 74 square miles. Compare this to neighboring New Jersey which has about 1800 liquor stores or 1 store to every 5 square miles. And it’s even worse in the rural counties which make up the Laurel Highlands region, which is dependent on tourism. Somerset County, the home of Seven Springs and Hidden Valley resorts, has only 4 State Stores to purchase wine and liquor or 1 store to every 270 square miles. The point is that if a traveler to the Laurel Highland doesn’t plan ahead, he can find himself in a pretty dry situation. The PLCB lists all of their stores along with their hours of operation on their website. Pay close attention as many stores have very limited hours and most are not open on Sunday. If you are traveling the Great Allegheny Passage through Meyersdale for example, the State Store there is only open 3 days a week for seven hours each day!
Purchasing beer is a bit easier than liquor and wine, but still not as easy as in most states. Again, you cannot purchase beer in a grocery store or gas station. A distributor wholesales beer in Pennsylvania both to restaurants, bars and to the public. Wholesale means you can only purchase beer in kegs or full cases. You cannot stop in for a six-pack or two. To purchase six packs you must go to a retail licensee such as a bar or restaurant. The catch is that you may only purchase 192 ounces at a time, necessitating the ruse of buying two six packs, taking them to your car, and then returning for another two six packs.
One exception to this madness is that Pennsylvania considers wine produced in the state as an agricultural product. This means that if you are near a winery you may purchase up to 16 bottles of wine just as you would in any other liquor store. And better yet, most are open on Sundays. The Pennsylvania Winery Association has a tool on their website to find the locations of wineries and also offers “wine trails” to plan a tour of the various wine regions in Pennsylvania. One winery of particular note to those skiing at Hidden Valley or Seven Spring’s resorts is the Glades Pike Winery. Located on Route 31, the winery is only 5 miles from Hidden Valley and a bit over 10 miles from Seven Springs. If you are traveling to either resort from the east (Somerset) you will drive right by the winery.
You must also keep in mind that is illegal to transport any alcoholic beverages into Pennsylvania from another state and even the possession of liquor from another state is illegal. The penalty for this “transgression” is a $25 per package fine, the cost of prosecuting the case and up to 90 days in jail. However, for some strange reason, Pennsylvania does allow you to bring in booze from another country, after pay duties and taxes of course.
One final issue to consider is Pennsylvania’s Clean Indoor Air Act. Enacted in 2008, it bans smoking in a public place or workplace. However, like most regulations there are exceptions. Bars may be exempted if they don’t admit anyone under the age of 18 or if the bar is separated from the dining area by doors which can be closed. In practice, there are many establishments with great food who do not have the option of segregating the bar area and therefore won’t admit minors. The Taverne, in Somerset, is an example of a place that was previously kid friendly but now bans minors and as a result, your kid’s won’t be able to eat the best pizza in town. Bottom line, call ahead to confirm a restaurant’s smoking policy before arriving with your kids.
Pennsylvania has much to offer the traveler to the Laurel Highlands, but availability of spirits is not one of them. It is essential for the tourist to plan ahead to ensure your trip isn’t a bit drier than you had intended.