Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Light in the PLCB

Yesterday, I found myself in the PLCB store in Robinson Towne Center. It takes me about 30 minutes to drive there, and I pass by no fewer than 10 PLCB stores to get there.

I stopped by since I was in the area anyway, and I needed some Wine Preserver. Wine Preserver is an ingenious little bottle of nitrogen and noble gases that one sprays into opened wine bottles to keep them from oxidizing and going bad. It works a lot better than those vacuum stoppers.

This trip was particularly notable since it gave me my very first pleasant experience at a PLCB store. The staff were extraordinarily helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable. Even though the store didn't have any Wine Preserver in stock, the store manager (I believe) chatted with me for about 10 minutes as he helped me figure out where to get some. He answered a number of my questions about the SLO wine ordering process, and convinced me to try the (archaic) system again. I am tempted to make this my one and only PLCB store, despite the 30+ minute drive, if only to be nearer to its staff.

Eventually, the manager gave me a stock printout for the Wine Preserver, and told me that I could just take that to my local (East Liberty/Penn Circle) store, I could give it to them, and they would order some from the manufacturer, or from another PLCB store, and I could pick it up at my convenience.

Happy, I went back home. On my way home, I stopped off at the East Liberty PLCB store, and gave the printout to the cashier, and told him what the Robinson Towne Center manager had told me. The E. Liberty cashier looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language, and had me explain it again. He looked at the printout, and saw that a store located 15-20 minutes away had some in stock, and he asked me "why don't you drive out there to pick some up?" After explaining that I wasn't keen on driving out to the THIRD PLCB store of the day, he told me that I could pay 5-10$ to get it shipped to the local store. I agreed to it.

He had me write down my credit card information on the back of a piece of paper. I couldn't believe it was possible, but it was true: the PLCB really does still live in the early 1960's, long before credit card fraud, credit card swipers, and even computers had become common knowledge. Ahhh. Those simpler times. I left without even knowing the total that the PLCB was going to charge to my credit card, and without knowing when I could expect to hear anything from them. Whoever thought that this was a reasonable business practice in the freaking 21st century needs to be drawn and quartered.

Even worse, I learned yesterday that the PLCB was going to stop selling all of its wine-related accessories, including Wine Preserver. Why? Apparently something to do with a "bunch of suits" in Harrisburg thinking that "they weren't making money fast enough." Apparently, individual store managers are even forbidden to carry wine-accessories even if they think it will be profitable or beneficial for their customers. This is a prime example of the near-negligent bureaucratic failures typical of the PLCB.

This story illustrates a few major beefs I have with the PLCB system. First, is that while some employees are surely quite spectacular, somehow, the system apparently lacks any quality control to get rid of or retrain employees that give PLCB a bad name. Second is that the PLCB exhibits the classical monopolistic drawback of detached disservice to its consumers. Why bother improving service if customers cannot go anywhere else, and more importantly, if there is no quality control to ensure that stellar employees are rewarded accordingly?

No offense, but why would you agree to write your credit card information on a piece of paper? Sorry to hear western PA is filled with such goons.
The Robinson PLCB store is the only one I've ever visited in which I've received even a modicum of decent customer service. I've hesitated to mention it to others, because it's obvious they're not operating by the book (thank god).

The LCB system — in addition to a bevy of other prohibitive alcohol laws and taxes — reflects so poorly upon the state. Why would a prospective restaurateur or oenophile willingly move here? Yet the system is sooo monolithic and so embedded in Harrisburg's revenue stream, how would one even begin to dismantle it?
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