Two states, Pennsylvania and New Mexico, have closed liquor stores as part of the sweeping business shutdowns ordered by governors to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Everywhere else considered beer, wine and the hard stuff “essential” for Americans forced to stay home and forgo almost all social interaction in public. Maybe it’s no surprise, then, that alcohol sales spiked across the country in mid-March to a point rivaling holiday season boozing.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, decided to cork stores out of an abundance of caution in mid-March, but the website for state-run stores that sell spirits remained open.
New Mexico’s governor stopped in-store services and drive-through operations at liquor stores as of Tuesday.
Most governors deemed the sale of beer, wine and liquor an “essential service” during state lockdowns. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, allowed liquor stores to remain open when he issued a statewide stay-at-home order on March 30.
Mr. Hogan advised liquor store owners to use common sense to ensure customers are practicing social distancing.
Jim Haskell, who owns Centreville Liquors on Maryland’s rural Eastern Shore, is operating his business curbside. He has set up a table outside where customers place orders. He then retrieves the beverages, goes back to process the sale and sanitizes the credit cards before returning them to customers.
“As this COVID-19 thing goes on, I’m not freaking out about it. I’m not scared of it, but I am concerned,” Mr. Haskell told The Washington Times.
He said his employees use bleach to cleanse surfaces and wash their hands constantly.
He had a rush of buyers when people feared the state would shut down alcohol sales when it imposed stay-at-home orders. Since then, he said, business has been slightly slower than usual.
Kyle Swartz, the editor of trade publication Beverage Dynamics, reasoned that liquor stores have largely been deemed essential to prevent mass protests and resistance.
“People need a way to get through this, and alcohol is a way that people can still enjoy what life is left,” he said. “If they close the liquor stores, that would just be another level of happiness taken out of people’s lives.”
Those fears were revealed when Pennsylvania residents rushed to bordering states to buy alcohol after their stores closed March 17.
A store in Delaware reported a 300% increase in sales, Mr. Swartz said. A store on the New Jersey border had a 120% increase in sales, according to Reason.com.
Online alcohol sales also have soared.
“Extremely high online sales. Delivery sales have tripled for many stores,” Mr. Swartz said.
Nielsen market research revealed that internet purchases were up 243% in mid-March. The data suggests the rush faded during the final week of March, but sales still outpaced the same one-week period last year.
Federal and state tax revenue from alcohol sales also could contribute to its “essential” status. Psychology Today recently noted that the federal government collects about $1 billion in taxes every month from alcohol sales.
Some liquor stores go the extra yard to accommodate senior citizens, who medical professionals say are most at risk of complications from the new coronavirus.
Stores around Charlotte, North Carolina, are opening an hour early for seniors, WBTV reported.
Meanwhile, the beer brewing company with a name similar to the coronavirus temporarily shut down to comply with an order from the Mexican government to halt all nonessential production.
Grupo Modelo, which makes Corona Extra, announced Sunday that it would cease production and marketing until the crisis dissipates.
The brand suffered a public relations beating in February when fears of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, swept around the world and media reported that people were associating the virus with the pale lager.
Still, sales for Corona Extra rose 50% in late March, according to Nielsen data.