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Retailers See Heavy Demand As Consumers Stock Up, But Worrisome Signs Abound

March 16, 2020

Wine and spirits retailers in a variety of markets have reported robust sales in recent days as consumers race to stock up on supplies due to the outbreak of coronavirus.

In New Jersey, Mike Maro of Maro Brothers Discount Liquor told NJ.com that he did as much business on Friday as on Christmas Eve, and also likened the situation to the day or two before a major snowstorm. Other New Jersey retailers reported a similar bump in sales.

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, Jax Liquors did about $12,000 in sales on Thursday, up from the normal total of approximately $9,000, according to the local Times Free Press. Some retailers also reported strong sales of larger bottle sizes, and multiple reports reference outsized demand for grain alcohol, with much of it likely to be used as hand sanitizer due to its high proof.

In Pennsylvania as elsewhere, consumers are stocking up on beverage alcohol. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) has been seeing dramatically increased sales volume—both at its stores and its web portal, FineWineAndGoodSpirits.com. “We had lines outside many of our stores yesterday morning when they opened, and we’re trying to keep up with a traffic flow that rivals or exceeds holiday shopping volumes, though we’re challenged to keep shelves stocked,” PLCB Chairman Tim Holden told SND.

On the negative side came the PLCB’s Saturday announcement that by Tuesday it will close all 107 stores and four licensee service centers in the southeastern counties of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery, where the coronavirus has been reported. At press time, stores in all other counties were operating on normal schedules, the PLCB said, but added that it’s monitoring the situation. The PLCB plans to continue operating its e-commerce fulfillment center, and orders at www.FineWineAndGoodSpirits.com can be shipped directly both to home and business addresses in Pennsylvania. “Due to unusually high volume, however, order processing and deliveries are expected to be delayed,” Holden noted. “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in online orders over the last few days, with the vast majority of online shoppers opting for delivery to homes and addresses, not stores.”

As for in-store operations throughout the rest of the state, the PLCB says it has implemented reinforced cleaning and disinfecting procedures and is posting COVID-19 information in all its stores, educating store staff and customers via email about public health officials’ guidance on how to protect themselves and contain the spread of the virus. The PLCB had sales of $2.7 billion in its last fiscal year.—Daniel Marsteller and Kevin Barry

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