Last week, schools, restaurants, bars and other types of businesses throughout Minnesota closed or went under restrictions, and many local workers either chose to stay at home or were laid off in a statewide effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

To get a read on how people in the area are coping with social distancing and being cooped up at home, the Enterprise reached out to representatives of one essential service – liquor stores.

Everclear selling fast

Rapids Spirits Liquor Store manager Scott Olson said sales went up 64 percent last week.

“It’s compounded by the fact that people are stocking up,” he said. “Customer numbers are definitely up, but also their purchase quantity is up.”

Olson said the customers were mostly local. “We were running enough last week, and trying to keep up with that increase, and keep things sanitized,” he said, that staff didn’t keep close track of where people are from. “I know we saw some different faces, or faces we don’t see as regular patrons.”

Regarding which products were in high demand, he added, “Some of our specials went really well. I think that was probably driven by the fact that people were picking that item up with the intention of not having to go next week.

“The only big one that’s an oddity (is) Everclear, because people can make hand sanitizer with it. … That got cleaned off the shelves immediately.”

Snowbirds landing early

“Business has definitely picked up, overall,” said Amanda Weller, manager at 71 Bottles of Beer and Liquor. She agreed that concern about the coronavirus “has probably affected both” their number of customers and the amount they are buying.

Regarding “our usual summertime customers, the people who have cabins up here,” Weller said, “we’ve noticed people have been coming a little earlier than usual.”

However, she said, 71 Bottles hasn’t seen any unusual sale trends or trouble keeping products in stock.

Revised drawings will show how the proposed remodeling project at the Nevis Municipal Liquor Store will address problems with storage and update restrooms so they are handicapped accessible. Lorie Skarpness/Enterprise.
Revised drawings will show how the proposed remodeling project at the Nevis Municipal Liquor Store will address problems with storage and update restrooms so they are handicapped accessible. Lorie Skarpness/Enterprise.Enterprise file photo

Customers miss gathering

“We’ve had an increase in our off-sale, but it’s not been crazy,” said Kiley Weaver, manager at the Nevis Municipal Liquor Store. “It’s not like a Fourth of July weekend. It’s just been an increase from what we did this time last year. Except for Monday morning, when we had a very sizable sale that brought in as much revenue as what we’ve been making in two days of sales.”

Busch Light is their best selling liquor, both now and before the shutdown.

She said comments she hears from customers is what they miss the most is connecting with their friends.

Weaver said she has not seen any out-of-towners. “For the most part, it’s just been our normal people coming in and out,” she said. “I haven’t noticed any difference in our clientele.”

The degree of concern about COVID-19 varies from person to person. “It’s about half and half,” she said. “Half of the people who come in are very cautious, and the rest seem to think it’s maybe not going to happen because we’re in a small town.”

Akeley municipal liquor store
Akeley municipal liquor store (Enterprise file photo)

Off-sale varies at Akeley Muni

Manager Lacey Hitchcock said their off-sale purchases have varied widely. “A lot of people the first night was triple the business,” she said. “A few people came in and bought cases of booze. Now we’re a little higher.”

Vodka, rum and beer have been most in demand.

She said the most frequent comment she hears is that people miss socializing.

“They say it’s pretty boring without the bar being open,” she said. “One person said they really didn’t need anything, but they came just to buy something just so they could see people. And we’ve had people pull up in the front and talk with us from their car when we come out, while staying a safe distance away.”

Hitchcock said they are taking extra precautions. “Every time a customer comes in we wipe down the counter, cooler doors and handles, just to try as much as we can on our part to keep everybody safe.”