What the Post Office Could Teach the State Stores
Something struck me as I read through this Wall Street Journal story on how the United States Postal Service is going to shut down as many as 3,653 post offices, mostly in small towns, and allow corner markets and gas stations to sell stamps and accept packages for delivery. How convenient, I thought, not to have to make a special trip to the post office, with its bad parking and lengthy lines, just to snag a stamp for a bill that’s due. And as U.S. Postmaster Patrick R. Donahoe said, “Many general stores are hanging on for dear life out there with the recession and a lot of other issues.” How civilized of the USPS to not just think about its own employees, but to concern itself with the positive economic effects of this change on small businesses! And how forward-thinking of the Postal Service to be biting the bullet and confronting the future—when surely even more of us will be sending bill payments and letters electronically—rather than, oh, say, clinging to outdated and bewildering distribution methods, overpaid union jobs and inconvenient hours.
So why can’t the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board be more like the post office?
Why can’t I buy a six-pack of beer at a grocery store—or even a case, the way I can in other states I visit? Why can’t I pick up a cold bottle of sauvignon blanc right when I decide to buy that great-looking flounder? Why, in this age of modernization and centralization, do I need to support a vast infrastructure of warehouses and trucks and workers and stores only duplicating effort that could easily be subsumed by the private sector—a private sector that’s willing and eager and ready to pay big bucks for the right to take all that off the LCB’s hands?
The slovenly cashier who deigns to accept my $20 bill for a bottle of beaujolais has no special expertise or knowledge when it comes to wine or spirits. Hell, she can barely make change. Yet she’s paid $39,000 a year. (Her union boss, Wendell Young—a.k.a. the first guy to scream when privatization is mentioned—makes $233,000. No wonder he won’t shut up.)
Frankly, I’m surprised the Postal Service isn’t developing a huge, unwieldy machine that could be set up in Wegmans stores and would require you to hum the National Anthem into a breathalyzer before it would dispense your 44-centers—a machine that would prove to be an utter bust. That’s the kind of innovation the state stores have led me to expect.