The University of Pennsylvania Has a Drinking Problem

With Penn cracking down on student drinking, the closing of the 41st and Market state store may be more than mere coincidence.

IF PENN DID conspire in the closing of that liquor store, it’s understandable. Colleges can’t win when it comes to student drinking these days. When I was an undergrad, we marched to demand that the administration stay the hell out of our business. Since then, judicial rulings and helicopter parents have driven colleges back into the role of in loco parentis, with increasingly heavy-handed overseer duties. What the courts and deans and Mom and Dad can’t curb is the desire of the college student to par-tay.

We may even be encouraging it. We work so hard these days to eliminate risk from our children’s lives. Driven by the fear born of 9/11, by milk-carton reminders about stranger danger, by product recalls and warnings about tainted food, we strap kids into baby seats, swaddle them in bike helmets, organize their playtime into regimented sessions of soccer and SAT tutoring. When they head off to college, they’ve never been in charge of anything, let alone themselves. Suddenly, they’re free to get shit-faced and balance on balcony railings. So they do.

In February, I spoke with a Penn student named Alex Ball. He’s a senior, majoring in the biological basis of behavior. He grew up in Maryland. When he came to Penn, he was unfamiliar with the state store system. “I’d heard it was draconian and backward,” Alex told me, “but my recent dealings have enlightened me even more.”

He’d been dealing with the LCB because he’d started a business called Penn Delivers. You could email or text him, and he’d bring you a bottle of wine or gin. (“Mourning the untimely demise of 41st Street Wine & Spirits? Cast off your sackcloth! Dry your eyes! Because now Penn Delivers!”) “It’s an idea that was born out of necessity,” he told me. “Penn students have a hard time finding alcohol since the state store closed.”

When we spoke, Alex was just coming off his first weekend of deliveries. “I made eight,” he told me. “Mostly party staples—rum, vodka, some wine.” It’s not just liquor, he added: “I picked up two cigarette packs at a convenience store. I’ll bring whatever you need.”

Alex’s business plan was simple: He charged a flat $5, plus $2 per item. He got to the state store via SEPTA: “It’s the most efficient method. I don’t have a car.” Did he worry about toting booze on the bus? “Not at all.”

He’d also just had his first conversation with an LCB lawyer about what he was doing. “It’s not expressly illegal,” he noted. “There are gray areas in between delivery and distribution and retail. My understanding is that resale is different from distribution,­ which requires a liquor license”—an expense he couldn’t possibly afford.

“We’re working it out,” he said sanguinely. “I know the service can come out on top.”

Alex described himself as “a career entrepreneur.” He already has a business transferring vinyl records to CDs or MP3s. He saw himself as filling a void: “The fact is, college students are going to exercise what they consider their right to drink. I don’t want to run afoul of the regulations, but within the legal boundaries, I want to facilitate that.”

In fact, he had big plans: “I’d love to expand. It’s highly lucrative. If we can get through the legal issues, it’s the perfect opportunity for me. I’ll do some advertising, start with other campuses in University City and then outsource it.”

“Franchises?” I asked.

“Yeah, franchises,” he said.

The next time Marcy called for a ride to the state store, I mentioned Penn Delivers. “I’m not paying an extra $7 for a bottle of wine!” she said indignantly.

Less than a month later, Alex learned he’d have to buy a “transport for hire” license from the LCB. He’s no longer delivering alcohol, and has phased out his cigs-and-chips operation, too. Meantime, the LCB decided on a site for the displaced Penn liquor store. It will be housed in what’s now Risqué Video, an adult-video store at 43rd and Chestnut. It makes sense. Who rents porn DVDs anymore?

There’s no timetable yet for the new store’s opening. When I spoke with the LCB’s Stacey Witalec, she said, “We hope to finalize within six months.”

“Oh! That’s not so bad.”

“That’s just finalizing the location—the real estate issues,” she clarified. “Six months until construction begins. If things go well.”

Marcy’s in a two-year master’s program. I’m going to suggest she head out of state for her Ph.D.

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  • Bob

    Great story!

  • Catherine

    Hurry up and open that new store soon so all of the awful annoying Penn students will stop coming to the bar where I work! (PS Who is in graduate school and needs their daddy to drive them to a liquor store?? oh Penn….)

  • Just Penn?

    And Drexel students don’t drink? What about Temple? I’m pretty all college kids drink…this is just ridiculous

  • Please

    Please go back to writing your Romance novels. Have to imagine they are better than the drivel you come up with whenever you write these misinformed piece about Penn students.

  • Stop

    Agreed w/ @Please — just because you’re the only one in your family who couldn’t get into Penn doesn’t mean you need to write these halfass rants on campus issues without any original reporting to speak of. Maybe you could get a byline in the DP’s summer edition.

  • Geez

    This lady’s daughter needs to suck it up and take the subway.

  • Seriously, Sandy?

    There’s just no point to this article. The only thing that I got out of it was that the writer’s daugher is a brat who still needs her mommy to drive her places. So Sandy, either stop complaining about a closed state store or tell your daugher to take a cab.

  • http://underthebutton.com Under the Button

    Hey Sandy,

    We’re the undergraduate student life blog at Penn and we think your article misses the mark entirely. Got a minute?

    http://underthebutton.com/2012/05/in-which-a-helicopter-parent-tells-us-we-have-a-drinking-problem/

    Best,

    Under the Button

  • Dee

    This is one of the dumbest, most poorly written article I’ve seen in quite awhile.

    • Tom

      Dee: When you call something dumb and poorly written, you should really check your spelling. #potkettleblack

  • Confused

    I don’t understand the point of the article. Your title “The University of Pennsylvania Has a Drinking Problem” is sensationalist at best. It would be one thing if the article actually discussed alcohol abuse on Penn’s campus; however, your issue is more about the closing of a liquor store. Don’t even get me started on this “conspiracy theory” BS. I wouldn’t have minded a discussion of Penn’s alcohol issues, but the title to this article, “The University of Pennsylvania Has a Drinking Problem,” is nothing more than a “bait-and-switch.” It reflects an author who relies on sensationalist one-liners to draw attention to a poorly written and researched article.

  • Jana

    The store on 24th and South is about 15 minutes from campus…. nowhere near the 2 mile claim in the article.

  • Reason & Logic

    I have no doubt that many of these comments are from angry Penn students, after the post by Under the Button. As a Penn student myself, I think that alcohol and drug use on campus is an issue that needs to be addressed. Anyone who disagrees with that either hasn’t seen the statistics from Spring Fling (99 “crime incidents,” 45 hospitalizations over the course of one weekend) or is choosing to ignore them.

    Clearly, there are some cringe-worthy aspects (for example, I find it a little comedic that the author describes her father as crooning Penn songs over the ukulele and think it actually takes away from what could have been a serious article). And, the perspective of a grad is VERY different than that of an undergrad (a lot of the student life initiatives are centered around undergrads), so it may have been helpful for the author to show she had more several undergrad perspectives as well as that of her daughter. Additionally, I wouldn’t say the research here is poor (nothing said was completely incorrect) but the argument can be made that it is incomplete (the LCB struck down the idea of having a new store where Risque Video now exists). Of course, I have no idea when this article was submitted for publication, so it may well have been correct at the time it was written.

    That said, there are a number of issues raised by this article that I hear repeatedly between other students, but have never seen anyone bold enough to make these statements in an article. For one, the alcohol policy at Penn is a joke. Nobody cares about it or enforces it (by enforces it, I mean enforces it well).

    Additionally, the honest remarks made by the author about her attempts to get information from Penn reflects a deep-seated problem we have in our University. We have the tendency to shuffle people around, from source to source, as a means of letting bureaucracy prevent the truth from coming out (whether this is with the UA, the Office of Alcohol and Other Drugs, or the Office of University Communications, or any other group at Penn that deals with bureaucracy).

    The truth, in this instance, is that Penn doesn’t always handle things the way it knows it should. Take, for example, the Alcohol Policy. Normally, Greek and non-Greek groups will have their budgets frozen, be de-recognized, and have the individuals involved sanctioned heavily (in the most recent incident, AEPi was caught hazing and decided to be de-recognized after they were threatened with two years of social sanctions). However, the University blatantly disregards this policy whenever it wants to; after the UA was found guilty of hazing, all its members had to do was attend a single hour-long session on hazing education! And, to top it off, they were invited to continue working on the Alcohol Policy! Now, this doesn’t mean Penn conspired to close anything (I still don’t find that argument reasonable) but it does raise the issues of bureaucracy, secrecy, and favoritism, which run rampant across the University (want another example? Look at how the dean of the GSE was allowed to remain dean even after he was caught falsifying his credentials. That is, until a newspaper reporter came poking around and the University decided to get rid of him at that point.

    So, is this article perfect? Absolutely not. Could it have been done better if more perspectives of Penn students had been taken into consideration? Sure. But it also starts a public conversation about things that we don’t really talk about outside of our cliques- things that we need to talk about, if we’re going to improve. Anyone insulting the author and her daughter (or piling on to the ad hominem attacks) is doing a disservice to Penn and its future students. We should be examining the problems this article raises more critically, and looking at how to fix them, instead of trying to shame those who shed light on the truth.

  • http://RuthEllenEisen1@yahoo.com Ruth Eisen

    Too bad your daughter can’t think of anything else to do but drink her brains out, when she is getting a graduate degree and lives in Philadelphia, which offers a weath of activities (artistic, musical, historical, athletic, cultural, etc.). So far, you haven’t convinced me though that Penn does have a drinking problem to begin with. Maybe you should drive her to a detox program!

  • Alycia

    Your daughter got accepted to Penn but doesn’t know how to take the 40 bus to the liquor store and back? I guess going to an Ivy for grad school in social work isn’t very bright, so maybe this isn’t so surprising.

  • http://UPPhilly.com Ari

    The tagline is so sensationalist for such little backing. The only facts in this piece are that the LCB had issues with the management. Nobody from the LCB or UPenn implied that UPenn pressured LCB to shut down, and considering the 41st and market store served to tons of non-students in the area, I doubt that UPenn would have conspired to close them down. Backed with the news that LCB is building a new store, albeit by the time everyone affected has graduated and moved on, shows how silly this article’s key thesis is.

    Still, it sucks that it’s gone. It’s extremely inconvenient to get liquor now. See? I didn’t need 1000 words to explain that!