MARIETTA — Liquor stores around the country report higher sales as the coronavirus forces residents to limit their outings. Local retailers say they too have seen that increase.
Liquor stores have been deemed an essential business, allowing them to remain open during other business closures and a statewide shelter-in-place order, and national data shows consumers have responded.
According to Nielsen figures for the week ending March 14, off-premise outlets such as liquor and grocery stores nationwide saw sales of wine up 27.6%, spirits by 26.4% and beer, cider and malt beverages by 14% compared to the same week a year earlier. Sales of 3-liter boxes of wine rose by 53%, and 24-packs of beer increased by 24%. Online alcohol sales for that week were also up, 42% year-on-year.
Brian Simmons, general manager of Gem City Wine & Spirits off Fairground St. in Marietta said his store has enjoyed a similar increase. He said Gem City has seen an estimated 35% to 40% uptick in sales since the coronavirus began closing schools and canceling televised sporting events in mid-March. Simmons said with more time inside, it seems people are choosing to drink more.
“The bars and restaurants, (customers’) usual social life is not there,” he said, adding that his store has attempted to support local restaurants by creating a restaurant Bingo card which, if filled out by patronizing those restaurants, can win customers prizes.
Simmons said it’s been a challenge to keep up with the increased demand, but customers have been understanding. He added that the store isn’t typically running out of a type of alcohol altogether, but rather a brand name. He said brand shortages vary from week to week — sometimes it’s Maker’s Mark bourbon whiskey or Josh Cellars cabernet, though the latter has been restocked. Stock is generally replenished within the week.
“This is unprecedented. There’s no playbook to turn to to say, ‘OK, we need to buy this much more,’” Simmons said. “The way I look at it is if we’re out of your particular cabernet, we still have cabernet. It’s not like going into the grocery store and they don’t have Charmin ultra soft — they just don’t have toilet paper.”
Simmons said there doesn’t seem to be any one product that’s more popular with customers, it’s just that they’re buying in larger quantities. But, he said, there is one product whose increased sales are notable. The store manager said, at up to 95% alcohol by volume, grain alcohol sales are up because people are using it to disinfect items or make their own hand sanitizer at home.
“We’re actually having a harder time getting more grain alcohol, because other liquor stores are selling more as well,” he said.
Inside the store, Simmons said staff frequently use hand sanitizer and disinfect high-contact surfaces and encourage customers to observe 6-foot social distancing guidelines. The business is also offering curbside delivery of call-ahead orders.
Xander Vo, manager of South Cobb Package in Smyrna, said he too has seen an increase in sales, his around 20%, since mid-March. The store manager joked that on top of just being bored at home, people are probably drinking more because they’re stuck inside with their entire family.
Vo has placed signs on his door telling people to remain six feet apart at all times and to spend as little time inside the store as possible.
“People ain’t got (anything) to do, so they’re bored, and they come out and kill time. They’ll be in here for like 30 minutes,” he said, grabbing a small spray bottle from the checkout counter next to him and brandishing it. “And I spray everybody down with sanitizer. ... If you’re in here, you’re going to be clean.”
But Vo said he’s noticed that since the beginning of the coronavirus-induced closures and social distancing recommendations last month, customers have become more cautious. Most are now wearing gloves and masks when they visit, he said.
Nearby, at Smyrna’s Spring Road Package Store, husband and wife customers Ken and Latoya Inzar told the MDJ they’re not surprised at the uptick in alcohol sales. The couple said they too have purchased more alcohol since the start of the outbreak.
“It’s because I’m stressed out about everything going on and just not having anything to do, just sitting at the house all day,” said Ken Inzar, a commercial truck driver who has taken time off because of coronavirus concerns.
Latoya Inzar said after weeks of trying to balance working from home with staying on top of their 13-year-old son’s online school work, it’s easy to understand that more adults are having a stiff drink at the end of a stressful day.