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October 31, 2018

What does Philadelphia drink? Some numbers from Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board's 2017-18 report

Keep the city stocked with vodka, chardonnay and cinnamon whiskey and we'll be happy

Food & Drink Alcohol
07092018_alcohol_red_wine_pexels Photo by Kaboompics.com/from Pexels

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The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board released its 2017-18 annual report Wednesday. The full 92-page report – which you can find here if you love enormous PDFs – provides some facts and figures from a year’s worth of the state selling wine and liquor to Pennsylvanians ending June 30, 2018.

We’ll save the grousing about the state’s archaic liquor laws for another day and get into the fun stuff, like stats on the busiest state stores in Philadelphia and some very specific figures about alcohol sales across the state.

Pittsburgh’s thirstier than Philadelphia

This took me by surprise, but apparently it’s a regular thing: Allegheny County, the most populous county in the western side of the state, spends money more prolifically at Fine Wine and Good Spirits Stores than Philadelphia County even though population figures would suggest the opposite.


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The Census’s estimate for 2017 population counts puts Philadelphia County with 360,000 more residents than Allegheny County, which is home to Pittsburgh and its surrounding areas. 

Yet Allegheny County managed to be the only county in the state to crack $300 million in wine and liquor sales at its state stores. Philadelphia County came in second at $253 million, a 1.87 percent increase from last year, and that's with the lure of cheaper booze across the bridge in New Jersey and to the south in tax-free Delaware.

Philadelphians are trying to catch up to Pittsburghers, but failing for now. Good to know.

The least-boozy county in the state is Cameron County, also the state’s least-populous county according to the Census’s 2017 estimate. The county has somewhere around 4,600 residents, and accounted for just $449,623 in sales at liquor stores in fiscal year 2017-18, or 0.02 percent of the entire state’s sales.

That’s not even $100 per person each year at state stores in Cameron County. Maybe it’s a beer county.

The Eagles Effect

The PLCB says the Super Bowl set records this year, which shouldn’t surprise you if you saw the scene on Broad Street that night.

Retail wine and spirits sales statewide during the Super Bowl weekend had ranged between $16.2 million and $19.2 million for each of the previous six years. In 2018, sales increased 8.7 percent over the prior year to $20.6 million across three days.

What does Pennsylvania like to drink?

Here are a few breakdowns of what Pennsylvania residents spend their money at state stores:

Regular spirits: $1.32 billion
Regular wine: $847.5 million
Special orders: $104.6 million
Luxury wine: $54.1 million
Luxury spirits: $6.3 million

Luxury spirit sales have increased by 3,100% since 2013-14, when they were at $200,000.

The most popular “price segment” for spirits is the “standard” category, a range from $5.99 to $39.99. Spirits in that range moved 25.7 million units.


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The most popular “price segment” for wine is the “value” category, a range from $2.29 to $13.98. Wines in that range moved 35.8 million units, plenty of which were purchased by me.

Philadelphia County’s favorite drinks

Here’s what folks are drinking in Philadelphia, by total money spent:

Vodka: $41.3 million
Whiskey: $37.2 million
Red table wine: $34.0 million
Brandy/cognac: $29.4 million
White table wine: $22.8 million
Rum: $13.3 million
Tequila: $12.1 million
Sparkling: $11.9 million
Liqueur or cordials: $9.8 million
Box wine: $9.17 million

State-wide, unflavored vodka racked up nearly $300 million in sales, with American whiskeys and flavored vodkas following behind in the second and third spots.

Kendall-Jackson’s Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay (583,000 bottles) and Fireball (1.48 million bottles) were the state’s most popular wine and spirit items, respectively, by unit sales.

Not sure I can endorse the Fireball love, Pennsylvania.

Which stores move the most booze?

The report also looked at individual stores, ranked by total dollar sales.

Tops in the state in terms of dollar sales is the state store at 2238 W. Washington Ave., in South Philly, which made just 27,868 transactions but had an average transaction per customer of $1,641.30. The shop raked in $45.7 million, beating every other shop in the state by at least $20 million.

A few of these kinds of stores, with very high per-customer transactions, topped the list and sort of took the fun out of things; these state stores are probably favored by restaurants and bulk buyers, which would explain the low transaction volume/high transaction cost ratio.


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Among the state stores with average transactions under $100, a store in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood takes the prize with 391,129 transactions and $21.2 million in sales. 

Philadelphia’s highest-grossing normal person Fine Wine and Good Spirits Store is the one at 180 W. Girard Ave., which saw 330,806 transactions and $14 million in sales.

Nineteen different state stores in Philadelphia (aside from the bulk-selling giants) racked up at least $5 million in sales.

All of this is to say, this state likes drinking. A lot.


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