Broken Bottles Costing State Money

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One day after Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett announced his intentions to privatize liquor sales in Pennsylvania, there's an increased focus on the state's Liquor Control Board and how it operates.

When a clerk stocking shelves drops a quart of vodka on the store floor, or when a customer fumbles a bottle of wine on the way to the car, who pays for it?

The state Liquor Control Board picks up the tab.

Broken bottles are a problem at LCB outlet 5404 in Ashland in Schuylkill County.

Here $666 was lost to broken or missing bottles in 2011.

That’s a breakage rate five times the statewide average; by far the highest rate in our region.

"They can do a lot better," said customer Joshua Hepler of Mt. Carmel. "Put a little more money into it, go for more plastic bottles."

"If you’re dealing with glass, you should be a little more careful," added Dave Forgotch of Ashland.

"Breakage is actually much lower (in Northeast and Central Pennsylvania), almost half as it is across the rest of the state," said Joe Conti, the Executive Director of the PLCB.

Conti said it's a problem his agency works on and that the state agency reported a drop in dollars lost to broken bottles last year.

But as a percentage of sales, the National Association of Liquor Retailers confirmed the state’s overall breakage rate of one half of one percent is below the national average for private liquor stores.

That’s why the LCB store that lost the most money in our area to broken bottles, the Wine and Spirits Superstore in Clarks Summit, is not seen as a major violator. It reported breaking or losing lost almost $3,300.

"It’s a big store and they have a lot of bottles," said Martha Altieri.

In our region, breakage became more of a problem last year, with losses of $33,478 in 2010 rising to $39,329, in the most recent year of reporting, 2011.  That’s 18%, at a time when statewide losses fell.

The three highest breakage rates are at stores in Schuylkill County.

The outlet in Shenandoah is at 0.6%.

The LCB outlet store in Frackville has a breakage rate of 1.1%.

No store compares to the Ashland outlet which lost bottles at a rate of 2.4%.

"That’s too high," said Conti. "We’ll be happy to look into that."

Critics question the Liquor Control Board's policy of automatically refunding money to customers who break unopened bottles after they leave the store.

Conti defended that policy saying most private liquor stores in other states also offer a replacement for broke, unopened ones.

The LCB does not have statistics showing how many bottles are broken by customers versus clerks.