Liquor stores are considered an essential business and have been allowed to remain open during the coronavirus crisis.
And they’re doing well.
“We’re seeing a lot of people that we didn’t know before,” Betty Ann Deegan, owner of Deegan’s Wines & Liquors at 95-19 Jamaica Ave. in Woodhaven, told the Chronicle Tuesday.
Deegan said there was an increase in sales as the government ordered many businesses to close, while limiting restaurants and bars to takeouts and deliveries.
“There was a spike in business then, definitely,” she said. “Because people were like, ‘Oh, They’re going to close you, they’re going to close you.’ And they were stocking up.”
Gov. Cuomo signed the “New York State on Pause” executive order in late March to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The State Liquor Authority put out a press release clarifying that liquor stores could remain open. The stores were covered under essential manufacturing, including food processing, which applies to all foods and beverages, and essential retail, consisting of grocery stores, which encompasses all food and beverage stores.
Deegan said she was relieved when she learned she would be allowed to stay open.
“I really didn’t know what I would do if I was told to close because you’ve already ordered stuff, you have it in here and the bills are due in 30 days,” she said.
Deegan said newcomers to the store may have seen their usual liquor store close and that customers have been socially distancing, covering their faces if they forget to come in with a mask.
There have also been more deliveries. She did add that sales calmed down after the spike when people realized the business was going to stay open.
She did admit to having some survivor’s guilt.
“Other people had to close and we didn’t,” Deegan said.
Sutphin Boulevard Liquor Store at 95-25 Sutphin Blvd. in Jamaica also saw a large increase in sales at first but it has leveled off, according to owner Luis Pedres.
“It goes on and off,” he said. “It’s slow, it’s not busy. It’s busy, then it’s sort of slow, then it’s busy again, then it’s sort of slow.”
Pedres said he believes the increase in sales early on was not only because of consumer fears that the business would close but also because people could use its products as a substitute for hand sanitizer.
“So I guess people use it also to make their own hand sanitizer when it was selling out everywhere,” he said.
Closing liquor stores during the pandemic could have led to more stress on hospitals and medical centers, experts say.
“Each year there are roughly 250,000 emergency department visits and 850 deaths related to alcohol withdrawal,” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Director George Koob told Newsweek in early April. “Abruptly limiting access to alcohol could lead to an increase in withdrawal among people with severe alcohol use disorder and add to the burden on the healthcare system.”
Deegan and Pedres said they haven’t seen anybody stumbling around the store looking to be in desperate need of a drink.
Deegan said some different items are selling better than usual because of new customers. She said there have been slightly slower deliveries during the crisis.
“We always used to get next-day deliveries,” Deegan said. “They’re not always next-day. Sometimes it’s a couple of days.”
She said it can become “a little iffy” deciding on when to order items and that sometimes she has to tell a customer to wait a few days for something.
“We’re trying to anticipate when we’re going to get something,” Deegan said, adding that she expects good sales from people who have yards and want to have Memorial Day picnics.