What’s wrong with the liquor stores we got?

The Washington Post reports that Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is making progress on his proposal to privatize the state’s liquor stores. That’s good news, but what’s really interesting are the comments on the story. Commenters overwhelmingly oppose the idea. A sampling:

One of the nice things about living in Virginia, is not seeing big “LIQUOR” OR “CUT RATE LIQUOR” signs on every corner.
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Virginia’s ABC stores are clean, quiet, civilized, and a good neighbor on the block. I’ve never been in a commercial liquor store that wasn’t ugly and dirty.
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People aren’t clamoring for privately owned liquor stores in Virginia. In fact, to many of us, the well run, neat, and safe Virginia ABC stores are highly preferable to the seedy private liquor stores that you see in other states.
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I agree with most of the comments posted. If it’s not broke – don’t fix it. All in all, the Virginia state store system works. While prices may not be as low as those in D.C., they still are competitve. Let’s not sacrifice a system that works for a short term, one-time injection of cash.
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Agree that it is nice to have clean liquor stores and not ghetto liquor stores on every corner like in other states.
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I completely agree with those who point out that having the ABC stores selling liquor means I don’t have to see billboards and signboards on every corner advertising cut-rate liquor. It’s one of the nice things about Virginia.

It’s hard to imagine any good reason why the state would be better at selling liquor than profit-seeking business owners. It’s a safe bet that none of these commenters are particularly into spirits. While Virginia stores might be clean, they’re also completely soulless: The same convenience store atmosphere and poor selection at all of them. The employees usually have no knowledge of the products they carry, prices are high, and if your tastes go at all beyond the basic brands they probably don’t have what you’re looking for. Spirit lovers either buy in DC, buy online, or suffer without.

People who aren’t into spirits have no incentive to care about this. Ads for sale prices are of no interest to them, though people who drink are happy to receive the information. The same applies to the poor selections. Who cares if you can’t find creme de violette in Virginia? A handful of consumers and specialty entrepreneurs might, but the law prevents them from doing business together and is not easily changed.

Call it the Beer We Got principle, after Alabama representative Alan Holmes’ classic speech objecting to a bill to legalize high-alcohol beers in his state (starts about 5:30):

Yeah, what’s wrong with the beer we got? I mean the beer we got drink pretty good, don’t it?

To the uninterested consumer the “X we got” will always be good enough. That’s why the state should pretty much never be in the retail business.

[Via @ivangosorio.]

Previously:
Go, Bob, go!
Virginia’s Archaic Beverage Commission

Comments

  1. Doug Winship says:

    I find it interesting that the comments on this article are so heavily against. Prior web items about this that I have read have had comments largely in support. In fact, the few comments against were from employees of the state stores!
    Is the Post’s readership so different from the other outlets, or are we seeing some astroturf?

  2. Jeff says:

    Doug, what outlets were the other web items in? Were they read mostly by people from the non-DC part of the state? People in northern VA (the Virginians who read the Post, for the most part) are more trusting of government simply because a pretty good chunk of people in northern VA are employed by it. It’s not that NoVans don’t like private enterprise, it’s just that government is the known and is viewed as trustworthy, and private enterprise is the unknown. Central and southern Virginians may not share the same trust in government and might thus be more sympathetic to a change.

  3. Jacob Grier says:

    @Doug Winship @Jeff: I’m not sure which way this is going and I thought this might be astroturf as well. Jeff, in this case it may be the opposite of the usual alignment regarding trust in government. People in NoVa may be more likely to oppose state-run stores due to cosmopolitan influence from DC; they’re more aware of how lousy the ABC stores are. Religious residents from other parts of the state may be resistant to the idea of privatized liquor sales despite their general distrust of government.

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