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Interview: Editorial Cartoonist Signe Wilkinson on PA Liquor Laws

by Tim Gonzalez on Jul 6, 2012 in Culture


Cartoon ©2012 Signe Wilkinson/Philadelphia Daily News

Pennsylvania is notorious for having some of the strictest liquor laws in the country, requiring (among other things) that you purchase your beer and liquor in two different stores. However, New Jersey is right across the river, and the Garden State’s regulations are considerably different from ours. Those differences fuel many (officially illegal) cross-state trips for cheaper and easier booze buying. The Philadelphia Daily News Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, Signe Wilkinson, recently used this as the basis for one of her drawings. We caught up with Signe to find out her views on the alcohol situation, thoughts on the Chairman’s Selection program and learn her favorite drink.

What was the inspiration for the cartoon?
At the time, the state was considering a new [liquor law overhaul] proposal, but it was shot down. I’ve been here 27 years, and it’s a pattern. Every few years another proposal comes around.

Are you a wine drinker? What’s your opinion on the Chairman’s Selection program?
I’m not an oenophile or anything, but I have friends that are into it. Getting $75 wine for $16 seems good. I go straight to that section in the stores. I included the Chairman’s Choice in the cartoon because the program is unique to our state stores; Ohio doesn’t have a "Chairman’s Selection" because they don’t have a chairman. It also has a totalitarian-sounding name to it.

What is it like to live in states with different liquor laws than PA?
My first job was in California, and walking into a liquor store there for the first time was like coming from Bulgaria and walking into a grocery store for the first time. It was kind of overwhelming. There was too much choice. I wanted my Chairman’s Selection back! Overall the staff was very friendly and accommodating. I was shocked by how convenient it all was.

What do you think people in other states think of our liquor laws?
They’re probably shocked and amazed that it works this way. The rules are arcane and really need to be revised. The stupid parts are the way it is all divided.

What do you think PA should do about their liquor laws?
There would need to be a massive change. The problem is the small businesses would get hurt, since their business is based around the way it works now. There should be some consideration for the small businesses.

Do you think the laws will ever be changed?
At some point, but I’m not sure when. It seems that with each new governor, there’s a new attempt. I think the main thing would be to train people. Have people that are knowledgeable about the product and can help and answer questions about it.

Would you go to New Jersey to get any alcohol?
If I was in New Jersey visiting people, I might make a stop and see what they have. I’m not a big drinker, so there’s no real need to. It’s like being in Jersey and getting gas. If you’re there, why not? They’ve both got better prices and service.

Final Question: What’s your favorite drink?
I was at the Steven Starr tiki bar at the Art Museum last weekend and had a Mai Tai. It was delicious but I drank it too fast, and now it’s my least favorite. Right now, I’d say homemade lemonade without any alcohol.

Wilkinson has done a few other cartoons on the matter — a couple of which you can find here and here. You can also catch Signe’s cartoons in every print copy of the Philadelphia Daily News, follow her on Twitter, or like her facebook page, Signetoons.

 

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