Open Access Research article

Alcohol beverage control, privatization and the geographic distribution of alcohol outlets

Tony H Grubesic1*, Alan T Murray2, William Alex Pridemore3, Loni Philip Tabb4, Yin Liu1 and Ran Wei1

Author Affiliations

1 Geographic Information Systems and Spatial Analysis Laboratory, College of Information Science and Technology, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, 19104, USA

2 GeoDa Center for Geospatial Analysis and Computation, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, 85287, USA

3 Department of Criminal Justice, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, 47405, USA

4 Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Public Health, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, 19102, USA

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:1015  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-1015

Published: 21 November 2012



With Pennsylvania currently considering a move away from an Alcohol Beverage Control state to a privatized alcohol distribution system, this study uses a spatial analytical approach to examine potential impacts of privatization on the number and spatial distribution of alcohol outlets in the city of Philadelphia over a long time horizon.


A suite of geospatial data were acquired for Philadelphia, including 1,964 alcohol outlet locations, 569,928 land parcels, and school, church, hospital, park and playground locations. These data were used as inputs for exploratory spatial analysis to estimate the expected number of outlets that would eventually operate in Philadelphia. Constraints included proximity restrictions (based on current ordinances regulating outlet distribution) of at least 200 feet between alcohol outlets and at least 300 feet between outlets and schools, churches, hospitals, parks and playgrounds.


Findings suggest that current state policies on alcohol outlet distributions in Philadelphia are loosely enforced, with many areas exhibiting extremely high spatial densities of outlets that violate existing proximity restrictions. The spatial model indicates that an additional 1,115 outlets could open in Philadelphia if privatization was to occur and current proximity ordinances were maintained.


The study reveals that spatial analytical approaches can function as an excellent tool for contingency-based “what-if” analysis, providing an objective snapshot of potential policy outcomes prior to implementation. In this case, the likely outcome is a tremendous increase in alcohol outlets in Philadelphia, with concomitant negative health, crime and quality of life outcomes that accompany such an increase.

Alcohol beverage control; Alcohol outlets; Alcohol availability; Location modeling; GIS