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Liquor sales begin to jump as coronavirus fears spread

Excerpted from BizJournals.com

Amid the coronavirus being classified a pandemic by the World Health Organization on Wednesday, John Johnson, owner of The Wine Rack, said he saw Thursday alcohol sales increase 100%.

Monday and Tuesday were slow as people were “shell shocked” with the news of COVID-19’s spread—with trips only from work to home, Johnson speculated. But by Wednesday, sales were about 20% above average with Thursday sales being the best he’s seen all year.

“We’ve definitely seen changes. People don’t want to be stuck at home without bourbon or wine,” Johnson said of the virus’ impact on business. “It’s a fairly dynamic situation. Been good and bad for business, if you look at this week—the fear has been building. We’ve seen most of the impact this week.”

The Wine Rack, at 2632 Frankfort Ave., has nine employees including Johnson. Though he has no plans to close the store, he said he’s anticipating a “then what?” moment once fear dies down as a lot of his business comes from customers stopping into the shop after eating at one of the nearby restaurants.

“If the restaurants aren’t busy, we haven’t seen the full effect of some of that business not being there now,” Johnson said. “It definitely feels like the ‘snowstorm is coming mentality,’ only a little more disturbing.”

Johnson said he’s seen an uptick in deliveries recently through his business’ online shop and partner app, Minibar Delivery.

Jonathan Blue, Chairman & Managing Director of Blue Equity—owner of Liquor Barn and Party Mart—said sales at his businesses are significantly up. Blue said the stores have just implemented a pick-up option for customers where employees will take alcohol deliveries out to cars if customers do not want to enter the building.

Liquor Barn and Party Mart began delivering spirits in 2018, and are the largest deliverer of alcohol and beer in the Commonwealth between its more than 15 stores. Blue said that delivery service will continue to be available and a viable option for many consumers.

Blue said there haven’t been many unforeseen impacts of the coronavirus on his business, but expects a change in purchasing patterns related to the cancellation of the NCAA tournament. For the time being, both Liquor Barn and Party Mart are in the process of bulking up inventory.

For Johnson, Friday and Saturday are the busiest days for his business, but it remains to be seen what will happen next as customers settle into a staycation state of mind.

“We just try to stay healthy no matter what,” Johnson said. “We’re operating as normal, trying to keep it clean all the time. Hand washing every 15 minutes, wiping down surfaces a lot. Being smart about it and thinking positively. We’ll see what today and tomorrow bring.”

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