Those Long Lines? People Stocking the Liquor Cabinet, Not the Pantry

People have cleared food aisles of toilet paper, peanut butter and noodles as they prepare to settle at home during the coronavirus pandemic. Now alcohol is the next must-have for many consumers wondering how to deal with the current global public health crisis.

Suddenly a well-stocked liquor cabinet has priority.

“It was insane,” said Vince Grace, a Manhattan sales rep at Astor Wines & Spirits, who saw an onslaught of customers Thursday night stocking up on drinks ranging from grain alcohol to wine. Inexpensive wine was particularly popular, said Mr. Grace.

“People just buy what they can,” he said.

Drizly, a Boston-based liquor delivery company, said its sales growth rate has increased 50 percent since news of the virus spread. In Seattle, Chicago and Boston, sales of wine, beer and spirits rose 300 to 500 percent this week from January sales, the company said.

“Yesterday was our biggest day yet, including New Years and Halloween which are our busiest times,” said Cory Rellas, CEO of Drizly. “It feels like psyche is changing this week as people are realizing that they will be working from home for more than a few days.”

Lisa Rydman, whose family owns Spec’s, a Houston-based liquor chain store, said online sales this week were up 100 percent compared to the previous week.

“People are in a kind of hysteria so they fill in, whether in person or on delivery,” she said. “We absolutely see people wanting to stock up because they are preparing for whatever is to come.”

Eric Goldstein, owner of the Park Avenue liquor store in Manhattan, said customers came and bought a case or two of wine at a time, usually the morning before work or on the way home from the office.

“People kind of crouch together,” he said.

The excitement of these boom times, however, is somewhat dampened by the quiet stretches in the middle of the day – threatening reminders of less and less pedestrian traffic, Goldstein added.

“These rushes and supplies are slip-ups,” he said. “You are exciting for a second and then you see the doldrums, and I have a feeling that these doldrums keep getting longer.”

Mr Goldstein said he was concerned about the future of stores and stores like his in the heart of Manhattan if people continue to work from home and tourists stay away from the city.

“It’s bad,” he said.

For the moment, however, the onslaught continues.

At Astor Wines & Spirits on Friday morning, Mr. Grace said customers kept coming in, a steady pattern that resembled the crowds he normally sees on holidays.

He added, “Not so festive.”

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