Wine for Sale… in Vending Machines

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Pennsylvania is selling wine out of vending machines, but not just for the novelty of it. The state would like to sell liquor in its grocery stores, but fairly stringent liquor laws prohibit retailers from doing so. In an effort to legally boost booze sales, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) put wine kiosks in two neighborhood supermarkets.  

These kiosks, produced by a local company, Simple Brands, each hold 700 bottles of 90 types of wine priced between $5.99 and $23. Interestingly, the state also charges patrons a $1 convenience fee.

In order to buy a bottle, customers must insert a valid ID into the machine and take a breathalyzer test. The kiosks are linked to PLCB call centers where state employees make sure the person on the ID and the person at the machine are, indeed, the same. Only customers whose blood alcohol concentration is under .02% are permitted to buy the wine. The machine accepts debit and credit cards.

Prior to the kiosks’ existence, Pennsylvania residents, by law, could only purchase wine and spirits at state-owned stores that have universal prices and hours of operation as Pennsylvania is essentially an alcoholic beverage control state.  PLCB chairman Patrick Stapleton told USA Today that the machines are an attempt to make wine more accessible without taking legislative action to privatize PLCB stores.

"On the whole, the program has been very successful, far beyond our expectations," Stapleton told the Philidelphia Inquirer, after the machines took in $16,000 in sales of 1,400 bottles during the first two weeks of the test program in June. The PLCB is continuing to monitor their profits. If the program continues to be successful, the board will add 98 more kiosks to statewide supermarkets this fall.

While customers are buying the wine, their reactions to the kiosks are decidedly mixed.

"You don't have to drive to a liquor store and deal with going somewhere different … [but] you have to go through a lot of bells and whistles and hoops to get wine," Pennsylvania resident Sovanna Mamhe told USA Today.

"They are making a small attempt at something they should be light-years ahead of,” Bill Swartz, a Cumberland County retiree, told the Phildelphia Inquirer, referencing to Pennsylvania’s liquor laws.

Pennsylvania and Utah are the only two states who sell liquor exclusively in state-owned stores. However, Washington, Virginia, Alabama, Idaho, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Montgomery County, Md., also run state liquor stores, though there are privately run stores as well.

What else can you pick up at a local vending machine? Check out MainStreet’s roundup of the weirdest vending machines.

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