State Liquor Stores See Record Spike in March amid Bar Closures, Stay-Home Restrictions

They call it the “Quarantini.” It’s just a regular martini, but you drink it alone in your house.

This and other all-day drinking coronavirus memes you’ve probably seen making the rounds on social media lately offer evidence that Governor Kate Brown’s closure of bars across the state did little to quench Oregonians’ thirst for alcohol.

As they say: You can lead a horse to quarantine, but you can’t make him not drink.

If you needed more proof, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, or OLCC, reported that the state liquor stores it licenses sold almost $60 million in distilled spirits last month — a new record for March, and a 44 percent increase from the same period last year.

“We’ve been very busy,” Canby Liquor Store co-owner Andy Doern told the Canby Now Podcast last month, during a visit by a reporter that was purely investigative in nature and definitely did not involve us doing our own “stocking up.” “It’s actually making it difficult to keep liquor on the shelves.”

The local store has done brisk sales while embracing its status as an “essential business,” installing plexiglass screens and other measures to protect staff and customers, while offering the latest information on a chalk blackboard by the front door — where they also provide what we strongly suspect to be homemade hand sanitizer.

Despite the sharp increase, OLCC says the numbers primarily reflect a shift in consumption rather than an increase. People are drinking roughly the same amounts of alcohol, they’re just doing it at home instead of the local watering holes.

Sales at locations licensed for on-premises consumption (i.e., bars and restaurants) were down 53 percent from the previous year, OLCC reported. The sharp decline for licensees resulted in overall liquor sales showing 20 percent higher than in March 2019 — a less dramatic spike than what was seen at liquor stores alone.

Things have also been busy at the OLCC’s Milwaukee warehouse, where product is shipped to retailers across the state. The OLCC shipped 367,563 cases of distilled spirts in March 2020 compared to 278,407 in March 2019, a 32 percent increase.

The OLCC also reported two record-shipping days. March 19, when the agency sent out 26,685 cases, was the largest shipping day in the state’s history and a 117 percent increase over the same day in 2019. The second-largest shipping day in agency history was one day earlier, when 22,547 cases went out the door.

“We appreciate our warehouse employees and liquor store agents across the state for being nimble enough to adapt to the new business model imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” OLCC Executive Director Steve Marks said.

“Despite operating with less staff, and being open shorter hours, the combined efforts of liquor store agents are continuing to provide service while also generating an important source of revenue for the state during a time of limited economic activity.”

Though March 2020 will certainly be one to remember, it was still about $10 million shy of the all-time monthly sales record for the OLCC: $75.85 million. That mark was set in December 2019.

Photo courtesy the Canby Liquor Store on Facebook.

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