With Minnesotans asked to stay at home to help halt the spread of coronavirus, area liquor stores say they have bucked dire economic trends to see a significant boost in traffic, though one that has started to taper off in recent weeks.
Early spring is often a sparse time for liquor sales, and the sudden rush caught some retailers off guard. Lonsdale Liquor Manager Lynette Moe reported that for this month, liquor sales were up 60% from last year.
“I think that has to do with bars being closed, so people go to liquor stores,” she said. “And boredom. If people aren’t working, they drink more.”
For his part, Kenyon Municipal Liquor Store Manager Matt Bartel described the initial surge as “right before the Fourth of July and Christmas rolled into one.” That sudden rush led to shortages at some area liquor stores.
Some Minnesotans may have feared that the state would join a number of others across the nation that have closed liquor stores temporarily. Instead, Gov. Tim Walz has allowed them to continue operating with extra precautions, similar to those required at grocery and convenience stores.
As store closures began to seem less likely, demand for liquor started to taper off. Moe said that for April, sales have still been up compared to last year, but only by 30%. With fewer Minnesotans working, she said she sees a lot more traffic during the afternoon.
Inconsistent traffic and the need to take extra safety precautions has led some area stores to reduce hours. Lonsdale Liquor now opens two hours later and closes two hours earlier than normal, while Kenyon Liquor is opening one hour later and closing several hours earlier.
Bartel said that while weekday traffic remains strong, Sunday traffic has become so light that he’s decided to close the store that day. He said he believes that many Minnesotans are now consuming the liquor they stockpiled during the rush, reducing demand somewhat.
Particularly hard to come by is Everclear Grain Alcohol 151. At 75.5% alcohol content, the legal limit in Minnesota, it can be used as a disinfectant, at a time when shortages of rubbing alcohol, bleach and other cleaning products are in short supply.
With such demand for the product, getting ahold of it has become a challenge for liquor stores in recent weeks. Meanwhile, local distillers like 10,000 Drops have gotten in on the action, distilling their own hand sanitizers.
Fortunately, local liquor stores say they’ve been able to find enough cleaning products to keep their stores heavily sanitized. Sean Adams of Firehouse Liquors in Dundas said that his staff is cleaning the store more regularly and thoroughly than ever before.
“Anywhere that our customers or staff might touches gets sanitized a much as possible,” Adams said. “We try to do it every half hour.”
Adams’ staff also wear gloves and even tried wearing masks while serving customers. However, Adams said was scrapped because many customers had a difficult time understanding employees wearing masks.
For Moe, a key priority has been restricting the number of customers coming into the store. She is strictly enforcing social distancing guidelines, asking customers to come in groups of no more than two.
Moe said her biggest frustration is with customers who bring their children with them to shop. In Minnesota, no one under 21 is allowed in liquor stores.
Moe is enforcing that particularly strictly right now. Even though children are widely considered to have a low risk of suffering serious complications from coronavirus, they can contract it and spread it to others. That's a particularly high risk because they often have a hard time following social distancing guidelines.
“My biggest concern is when people bring kids with them to shop,” she said. “It breaks my heart that people are bringing out kids in this crisis."