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

People have been clearing grocery aisles of toilet paper, peanut butter and pasta as they prepare to hunker down at home during the coronavirus pandemic. Now, liquor is the next must-have item for many consumers wondering how they are going to cope during the current global public health crisis.

Suddenly, having a well-stocked liquor cabinet has become a priority.

“It’s been insane,” said Vince Grace, a sales associate at Astor Wines & Spirits in Manhattan, which experienced a rush of customers stocking up on drinks from grain alcohol to wine Thursday night. Inexpensive wine was especially popular, Mr. Grace said.

“People are just buying up whatever they can,” he said.

Drizly, an alcohol-delivery service based in Boston, said its growth rate of sales had increased by 50 percent since news of the virus began to spread. In Seattle, Chicago and Boston, sales of wine, beer and liquor this week were up 300 to 500 percent compared to sales in January, according to the company.

“Yesterday was our largest day ever, inclusive of New Year’s and Halloween, which are our busiest times,” said Cory Rellas, Drizly’s chief executive. “It feels like this is the week where there is a change in the psyche as people realize that they’re going to be working from home for more than a couple of days.”

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

“People are in a kind of state of hysteria, so they’re stocking up, whether in person or delivery,” she said. “We are absolutely seeing people wanting to stock up because they’re getting ready for whatever is coming.”

Eric Goldstein, owner of Park Avenue Liquor Shop in Manhattan, said customers had been coming in and buying one to two cases of wine at a time, usually in the morning before work or on the way home from the office.

“People are kind of hunkering down,” he said.

But the excitement of these boom times is dampened somewhat by the quiet stretches in the middle of the day — ominous reminders that there is less and less foot traffic, Mr. Goldstein added.

“These bursts of rushes and stock-ups, these are blips,” he said. “They’re exciting for a second and then you see the lull, and I feel like these lulls are going to get longer and longer.”

Mr. Goldstein said he was worried about what the future holds for stores and shops 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 now, though, the rush continues.

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

He added: “Not as festive.”

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