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Some Lawmakers Say 'Pop-Up Gardens' Take Advantage of Liquor Laws

“Pop-up gardens” are stretching the intent of laws that regulate liquor catering permits, say some PA lawmakers.

Liquor license holders that cater to weddings, company celebrations, non-profit fundraisers, and other events rely on off-premise permits to serve alcohol at various locations. However, some Philadelphia liquor-license holders are taking advantage of these permits to set up semi-permanent bars dubbed “pop-up gardens” that sell liquor ten hours a day, seven days a week.

State Senator Jim Ferlo (D-Allgheny/ Westmoreland), along with Senator Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks), Representative Paul Costa (D-Allegheny), and Representative John Taylor (R-Philadelphia) sent a letter to Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) Chairman Joseph Brion to draw attention to the issue.

According to Ferlo, the pop-up gardens coordinate groups of license holding liquor establishments to apply for multiple five-hour, temporary off-premise permits.

The permits are then strung together, back to back, to sell on location every day for up to ten hours. Instead of being used for catering and private crowds, as the law requires, the gardens use the permits to set up permanent locations that sell to the public.

“It’s become controversial because you’re having these basically liquor establishments that are not regulated like a normal tavern or restaurant would be, and there are potential problems and issues that have arisen,” Ferlo said.

One of these problems is that pop-up gardens are competing against bars and taverns that are required to purchase costly liquor licenses, which can range from around $90,000 to $200,000.

PLCB Chairman Joseph Brion issued a statement in response to the letter, saying that he is reviewing the statutes that cover off-premise permits, Acts 11 of 2011 and 116 of 2012.

Act 116 states: “Catered functions may not last longer than five (5) hours and end by 12:00 midnight.” However, a Philadelphia Daily News article alleged that the pop-up gardens use two permits, often issued to the same liquor provider, back-to-back from 2pm to 12pm. A “catered function,” is defined as being “for the accommodation of a person or an identifiable group of people, not the general public.”

Brion’s statement continued, “I have also been in contact with legislative leaders on this issue. Once I have reviewed all of the information, I will discuss it with the rest of the Board and we will determine how to proceed.”

According to Ferlo, these pop-up gardens have only been seen in Philadelphia, so far. He pointed out that while Pittsburgh liquor license holders do use off-premise permits, “ I think it’s done in a conscious way, utilizing the existing regulations. So, typically, if you’re going to have something in Market Square, it’s with the cooperation of the nearby taverns and restaurants.”