Essential Business: Area liquor stores stay open amid pandemic

Mr. B’s Wine and Spirits on Lebanon Road in Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

CAMDEN — Though many residents question why liquor stores are deemed essential in the governor’s state of emergency order, it’s for serious reasons that the businesses remain open.

Gov. John Carney’s office explained last week that life without alcohol would likely push some to seek “unsafe and unhealthy alternatives in an attempt to get the same effect they would get from consuming (it).”

Also troubling was a potential “surge of individuals seeking care at the emergency departments to manage withdrawal symptoms.”

A customer walks into the Liquor Depot in Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Health care professionals expressed concerns as the governor’s process of determining essential businesses unfolded. The Division of Public Health concurred, the governor’s office said.

Non-essential businesses were ordered closed indefinitely on March 24 .

Beer, wine and spirits, though, remain on the shelves for purchase as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

“Business is decent,” Camden Liquor & Wine owner Rushabh Maniar said this week.

“It’s not bad, it’s not excellent. It’s not about making money right now, though, it’s about public safety and we’re more focused on keeping the store as clean as possible.”

Some patrons have bought in bulk quantities to make fewer visits and spend less time inside. Many are heeding store signs to main social distancing recommendations, Mr. Maniar said.

Others aren’t overly cautious, however.

“I think some people are not understanding the point of staying home and staying healthy,” Mr. Maniar said. “We still see some of the same people three times a day. People should stay home and some just don’t get that.”

Liquor distributors that regularly arrived twice weekly now come once; no sales representatives are visiting, Mr. Maniar said.

According to Midtown Liquors owner Bob Patel, sales have dropped “big time.”

The store in Harrington is equipped with a stack of gloves for employees and masks present as well, Mr. Maniar said. Counters are cleaned every three to four customers and six feet of social distancing is a must, he said.

Sales are down 30 to 40 percent, Georgetown Liquors owner Jack Patel said. He’s closely evaluating inventory and spends more time walking through the store to specifically gauge what’s selling and what’s not.

“I checked on what we did last week compared to a year ago and the amount of buying now is not normal.”

With 2 1/2 years experience at Gumboro Liquors in Millsboro, clerk Angela Bare said customers are “All a little scared of what’s going to come of this and making sure they stay away each other from each other when they’re inside.”

Complete store cleaning wipedowns are conducted every 15 to 30 minutes, Mr. Bare said.

Some steady sales

According to Teller Wines owner Kevin Hester in Lewes, “Initially we had a run on our supply, there was a lot of buying by the case as people were preparing for the worst.

“That’s tapered off but we’re still seeing a steady business.”

Saturday tastings are on a hiatus, but Teller continues to promote products through local social media groups, aiming to support other community businesses, marketing director Catherine Hester said. Curbside service is available, she said.

At Dover Liquor Mart, owner Paresh Patel said the volume of customer visits is “the same, if not more” at times. Foot traffic into the store is inconsistent, however, and “it’s hit and miss really.”

Still, Mr. Patel said, “People are buying what they’re normally buying and aren’t stopping their drinking habits.”

Mr. Patel closed his store on Sundays to limit hours.

Some customers have stocked up on their alcohol supply to stay away for longer but others “are not taking it as seriously,” Mr. Patel said.

“There are older folks who should stay in that come in every day. I talk to customers and all seem to have different opinions. There’s a lot of misinformation out there which leads to different behaviors.

“One lady came in with one glove on, picked up something and then turned her glove inside out to get more. It was the worst thing she could do, but that’s what she did.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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