New law gives Pa. Liquor Control Board more power to crack down on 'stop-and-gos'

Shots of liquor for sale at a

Plastic glass shields shots of liquor for sale at a stop-and-go in the Sharswood section of North Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation Monday aimed at cracking down on “stop-and-gos,” the corner stores serving beer and liquor that are often accused of violating their state-issued licenses.

Under the measure, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board can immediately suspend the restaurant license of any business found not in compliance.

For years, the PCLB could take action only when a license was up for renewal, a process that occurs every two years.

“We’re in the process now of figuring out exactly what this might mean for our organization as far as personnel, as far as cooperation with the city [Philadelphia] – what phone numbers, what email addresses are we going to accept these sort of reports or complaints through,” said PCLB spokeswoman Elizabeth Brassell.

Existing state law requires stop-and-gos to be at least 300 square feet, have seating for a minimum of 30 people and serve food — although a hot dog or bag of chips per person suffices.

Under the new measure, local officials can now send violations to the PCLB, which will then investigate and, potentially, issue a license suspension. Business owners can appeal those suspensions to Commonwealth Court.

State Rep. Jordan Harris, the Philadelphia lawmaker who co-sponsored a previous version of the bill, said the law would likely lead to some businesses being shut down.

“Some of these places have 100 square feet. Unless they’re buying the property next door, there’s no way to remedy that issue,” Harris said. “It will stay suspended and then, sooner or later, it will go out of business.”

New law may be ‘game changer’

The law is particularly relevant to Philadelphia, where stop-and-gos are prolific in many low-income neighborhoods, including Stephanie Ridgeway’s slice of the city.

Ridgeway and other concerned neighbors recently launched a grass-roots campaign to push stop-and-go owners in the Sharswood section of North Philadelphia to be better neighbors — specifically, by talking to owners about liquor law violations.

The group’s main goal is to cut down on the number of people who buy alcohol from stop-and-gos, then drink their purchases in public.

“It’s not cool. It takes away from coming home or going to work or shopping in your own neighborhood,” Ridgeway said. “This legislation could be a game changer if really enforced.”

The Asian American Licensed Beverage Association of Philadelphia, whose members operate many of the stop-and-gos around the city, did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Brassell, with the PCLB, said it’s too early to say whether the new law will result in a wave of suspensions or store closures.

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