Special Reports

State Patty's spikes sales

People dressed in green for State Patty's Day walk along Beaver Avenue to get to house parties since few bars were open early Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010. CDT/Michelle Bixby
People dressed in green for State Patty's Day walk along Beaver Avenue to get to house parties since few bars were open early Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010. CDT/Michelle Bixby

STATE COLLEGE — In the week leading up to State Patty’s Day, the four state liquor stores in State College sold more than a half-million dollars worth of booze, rivaling sales leading up to a big football weekend.

According to the state Liquor Control Board, $564,880 worth of alcohol was sold in 39,541 bottles. That’s about $35,000 less than during the week leading up to the Penn State-Ohio State home football game in November, and about $10,000 more than was sold in the week leading up to the Blue-White football scrimmage in April.

No records of beer sales are available for the weekend. Beer distributors, like taverns, are private businesses and aren’t required to report their sales to the state LCB, said spokeswoman Francesca Chapman.

A lot of efforts were made, in the weeks leading up to the event, to keep excess out of bars and fraternities.Fraternity leaders agreed to serve only beer at parties. And bar owners agreed not to open early or promote the event in any way.

It didn’t halt the drinking.

“In the last year, I think that we’ve had a tremendous amount of energy focused on licensed establishments,” said Hotel State College partner Mike Desmond. “If you look at occupancy statuses, you’ll see that we can only hold a certain number of people. The taverns in town can only hold so many people and really the vast majority of the consumption is taking place in unlicensed and unsupervised environments.”

The day after the fourth State Patty’s Day event — created by students as a substitute St. Patrick’s Day in a year when spring break fell on the traditional drinking holiday — patrolling police reported that many of their calls were in response to apartment and house parties.

“I don’t see bar owners or tavern association members contributing to any kind of problem whatsoever,” said Jennifer Zangrilli. She is the president of the State College Tavern Association and director of operations for Dante’s Restaurants Inc., which has three bars downtown.

“It’s a stereotypical thing,” she said. “I think that we’re finding more and more ... problems come from individuals and organizations as opposed to licensed bars.”When backlash from last year’s State Patty’s Day made it to the ears of the man in charge of regulating the bars in Centre County, he decided to step up enforcement.

A year later, Sgt. Wayne Bush, with the state police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement says he thinks his efforts are paying off.“As far as the state stores selling a lot of booze, I wouldn’t doubt they did,” Bush said.

But after the event was over, Bush said he got an e-mail from a patrol officer saying it was noticeable that bar owners’ attitudes were changing.“If I’m getting that kind of e-mail from a patrol officer, then we’ve done something good in the last year,” he said.

Bush’s crew of about a dozen men were here for State Patty’s Day and issued nine citations to bars — six for selling to intoxicated people and three for selling alcohol to minors.

“I’m not asking them to do anything that they’re not supposed to do,” Bush said. “I’m just asking them to follow rules and regulations. I can’t wrap my head around why that’s such a big deal. Don’t serve drunks, don’t serve kids. They’re crying uncle like I’m sitting on their air hose.”

Zangrilli said in no way is she complaining about the LCE doing their job in this town. But she doesn’t understand why there is no similar checks and balances system on state stores, like there is on the bars.

“I find that it is a problem when the same governing body is making the laws ... and enforcing the laws,” she said.Unlike bottle shops — where each person is limited to buying two six-packs per visit — liquor can be sold in unlimited quantities from state stores.It’s not unheard of, owners say, to see shopping carts of booze being wheeled out.

“You can walk in as an individual and buy $1,500 worth of liquor, but you can’t walk into a bottle shop and buy more than two six-packs of beer?” Zangrilli said. “There’s a little disconnect.”

Last year, from Friday to Sunday of State Patty’s Day weekend the state stores rang up about $250,000 worth of alcohol sales. That was almost $50,000 more than their sales from the Ohio State football weekend in 2008, which ended with a downtown riot. It started a community conversation about excessive drinking.

“Sadly, it’s been a national trend of young people turning toward hard alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs,” Desmond said. “Years ago, they would have been more apt to consume beer, which is a much lower alcohol content.”

This year, State Patty’s Day netted more arrests, but police were more prepared and had more officers on the streets. When it was over, they also noted about 60 percent of out-of-control partiers were neither students nor residents, but had come in from out of town just for the celebration.

“Don’t get me wrong, when you’re open for business we were certainly selling alcohol,” Zangrilli said. “We all agreed that we weren’t going to open earlier than our normal business hours, but it wasn’t any easier for (staff), in terms of controlling the behavior of people coming in, because they had already been drinking when they came in.”

The way she sees it, there needs to be a change in public opinion.

“The majority of us do see part of our job as having a responsibility to the community,” she said. “And there is an element of education that a great part of the community needs to engage in. That we do run our businesses in a responsible manner ... and we do the best that we can every day.”

Sara Ganim can be reached at 231-4616.

Here’s the amount of liquor sold at the four state stores in the State College area in week ending on the following dates:

April 26, 2009 (Blue-White Weekend)Units sold: 39,650Total sales: $547,151

July 19, 2009 (no major event scheduled)Units sold: 23,288Total sales: $319,920

Sept. 20, 2009 (PSU vs. Temple game)Units sold: 34,506Total sales: $479,475

Nov. 8, 2009(PSU vs. Ohio State game)Units sold: 42,225Total sales: $591,470

Feb. 28, 2010 (State Patty’s Day)Units sold: 39,541Total sales: $564,880

Source: Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, based on sales reported by state stores in the Hills Plaza, Hamilton Square Shopping Center, North Atherton Street and the Benner Pike Shops.