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Data  

Liquor stores have been slammed as Americans stock up amid COVID-19 shutdowns

March 23, 2020

By now, you’ve certainly seen images of empty store shelves — and likely experienced them firsthand — as panic around the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) leads consumers to stock up on food, water, toilet paper, and hygiene products. But, those aren’t the only essential household items Americans are stocking up on right now.

At Womply, we’ve been analyzing revenue data at local businesses in all 50 states and across hundreds of business categories. As a result, we’ve seen a huge spike in sales at liquor stores across the country as Americans from coast to coast stock up on booze amidst shutdowns and shelter in place orders. Let’s dive into the data.

A daily view of how liquor store sales are trending compared to the same time last year

Another way to look at impact on liquor stores is to analyze every day of the 2020 calendar year against sales on the closest day of the week in 2019. That’s what you’re seeing in the chart below for all 50 states (we’ll look at specific states and cities later on). 

A few observations from this view:

  • Liquor store sales have been up consistently all year long so far in 2020.
  • On March 12th, shortly after the NBA suspended its season, sales spiked to 73% above the same time in 2019
  • Sales continued to climb the following weekend as more states began to close local bars
  • On Monday, March 16th, sales skyrocketed to a 278% increase, likely as Americans prepared for a St. Patrick’s day celebration at home
  • Sales were up by 100% or more throughout the rest of the week, as more states began to require local bars remained closed to slow the spread of the virus

Here’s a day-by-day calendar view of the same statistics

Map: Last week year-over-year change in liquor store revenues

One way to look at the impact of COVID-19 on grocery store sales is to look at the most recent week vs. the same time period in 2019. The graphic below shows this view, updated daily to show the most recent 7-day period.

Note, you can click on a state to view county-level data

As you can see, liquor stores across the country continued to experience huge increases in revenue last week (the week of Monday, March 23rd). Weekly revenue was up by more than 100% in several states, and only down in a handful of states.

This was a slight slowdown from previous weeks, when revenue in most every state was up by 60% to over 100%, but it’s clear that Americans in most every state are still stocking up on the good stuff.

Pennsylvania liquor stores were utterly ransacked after local bars were closed

Now, let’s drill down and look at a few states and metro areas. First up, Pennsylvania—where sales completely skyrocketed after Governor Wolf announced that bars and restaurants would be closed to dine-in customers in the most populous counties in the state.

Observations:

  • Pennsylvania liquor stores actually experienced the same March 12th bump that we saw nationally, increasing by 100% compared to 2019.
  • We’d forgive you if you didn’t notice, though, as Pennsylvania liquor stores were completely overrun on March 16th to the tune of an almost unbelievable 1,000% increase. This was almost certainly a response to the announcement that bars, restaurants, and state run liquor stores would be closing down on March 17th.

Let’s drill down and take a closer look at Philadelphia (in particular, the following counties: Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery).

  • Philly area liquor stores also saw a run on local liquor stores on March 12th, with revenue increasing by over 200% compared to 2019.
  • Again, the closure of Philadelphia area bars, restaurants, and state run liquor stores resulted in locals overrunning liquor stores to the tune of a 774% increase compared to 2019.
  • Revenue again shot up to a 168% increase on March 23rd, the day after Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney issued a “stay at home” order.
  • Philly liquor stores have continued to be extremely busy, with revenue consistently rising to 100% above 2019’s levels.

People absolutely pillaged Ohio liquor stores as well

Now, let’s drill down and look at a few states and metro areas. First up, Ohio— where sales went through the roof after Governor Mike DeWine announced that all bars and restaurants would be closing starting at 9:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 15th. 

Take a look:

Observations:

  • Ohio liquor stores were already having a pretty busy 2020, with sales consistently up between 15% and 50% above 2019’s averages.
  • Ohio liquor stores also got the March 12th bump, with sales more than doubling compared to 2019.
  • Sales skyrocketed to a staggering 462% increase the day after local officials announced the closure of all Ohio restaurants and bars.

New York shoppers are clearing out liquor stores, too

New York was one of the first U.S. states with confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, so it would make sense that the urgency around the pandemic would be felt urgently in the Empire State. 

Observations:

  • Liquor stores across the state of New York saw their first major spike come earlier than the rest of the country, with sales up 100% on March 10th.
  • Sales stayed between 40% and 100% above 2019’s figures through the rest of the week, as the situation in New York continued to grow more serious.
  • On Monday, March 16th, the day New York City closed its bars and restaurants, average liquor store revenue around the state was up 343%.

As you can imagine, liquor stores in the New York metro area (Bronx, Kings, New York, Queens, and Richmond counties), were similarly flooded by customers as local bars and restaurants were forced to close their doors.

Here you can see that for the first two consecutive days after bars and restaurants closed down, sales were up by more than 200% at liquor stores in the New York metro area.

Liquor stores have been slammed as Californians prepare to shelter in place

In addition to New York, California has had a disproportionately high number of confirmed coronavirus cases. As a result, citizens in major metro areas of the state have been ordered to “shelter in place,” which, as you can imagine, has had an impact on local liquor store sales. 

Observations:

  • California liquor stores were doing well through early 2020, with a few major spikes in the month of February
  • Sales were up in March, but California liquor stores didn’t see the same kind of March 10th – 11th spike experienced in other states
  • On March 17th, the day the bay area implemented its “shelter in place” policy, sales shot up at liquor stores across the state—nearly 350% above 2019’s figures

What’s next for U.S. liquor stores?

If COVID-19 continues to spread in the U.S., we can expect continued runs on American liquor stores. Particularly as more states direct local bars to close their doors in an effort to control the spread of the virus. That will result in spiky revenue patterns as consumers decimate store shelves, followed by liquor stores trying to restock. 

In general, this bodes well for liquor store revenue, although their inability to restock could lead to long-term softening in revenue. If the U.S. economy goes into recession as a result of the coronavirus, all local businesses will feel the pain, including liquor stores whose customers have to cut back. 

We will continue to update this data analysis over time, and we’re continuing to analyze sales patterns at other local business types such as restaurants, bars, retail stores, lodging businesses, and more. Stay tuned. 

Read more: The impact of COVID-19 on local businesses in Washington, including: supermarkets, hotels and motels, arts and entertainment businesses and more

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