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Surge in liquor sales comes with challenges for Butler County owners

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Police: Man arrested after ‘helping himself’ to food, liquor from closed restaurant

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Ohio’s increase in the amount of liquor sold during the coronavirus pandemic continued last month, as sales jumped again compared to the previous year at the same time.

More than 1,322,000 gallons of liquor were sold in April, a 10.7 percent increase from April 2019, and more than 1,450,000 gallons of liquor were sold in March, a nearly 23 percent increase from March 2019, according to data from the Ohio Department of Commerce Division of Liquor Control.

April sales by dollar amount were also up 16.6 percent from April 2019. March’s sales were also up 25.5 percent from March 2019.

Victor Patel scans a bottle at checkout for a customer at Middletown Fine Wine & Spirits Tuesday, May 19, 2020 on Breiel Boulevard in Middletown. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Victor Patel scans a bottle at checkout for a customer at Middletown Fine Wine & Spirits Tuesday, May 19, 2020 on Breiel Boulevard in Middletown. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

The retail part of sales at Middletown Fine Wine & Spirits have increase approximately 30 percent, but wholesale numbers have been “non-existent,” according to owner Sanket Patel.

“We service the bars, restaurants, racinos,” Patel said. “Those guys have been closed. They haven’t been buying anything.”

Overall, that’s meant a mixed bag for Patel’s store, with revenues up 10 to 15 percent overall.

Sales in April, March and February this year were higher than their respective months in 2019, but this January saw less than a 1 percent decrease from January 2019.

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For fiscal year 2020 so far, Ohio is up 12 percent in its retail, down 2 percent for its wholesale and up 8 percent overall in sales.

"For the overall number, that's not far off our average of 7 percent growth each year," said Lindsey LeBerth, brand manager for the Ohio Department of Commerce's Division of Liquor Control.

While retail sales are likely to subside as consumers dial back demand for their stay-home stash, sales of liquor to businesses are expected to rise in the coming days as restaurants shift from outdoor-only seating, which relaunched last Friday, to the return of indoor service today and Ohioans ordering beer, wine or liquor with a meal while dining out, not just by the bottle.

At least 10 vehicles filled spaces in the parking lot of The Wine List & State Liquor in West Chester Twp. early Sunday evening. Owner Vinod Bhatara said the store has stayed active in recent days but previous weeks saw it place “busy like holidays.”

“It’s slowed down because the restaurants are open now,” Bhatara said.

Customer Braydon Webb said it’s important that liquor stores have remained open during COVID-19.

“I definitely think right now people are very stressed out with everything that’s going on so it’s important for them to reduce their stress by drinking,” Webb said as he waited in line at The Wine List. “I think (liquor stores) are popular even when there’s not a global pandemic.”

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Patel of Middletown Fine Wine & Spirits said his store has fielded the surge in business amid reduced hours as part of coronavirus restrictions. The business also has allocated an hour at the start of each business day for older and high-risk customers.

Increased foot traffic is not an issue in terms of conducting business, he said, but social distancing efforts have been challenging every day.

“Some people are accommodating and some people are not accommodating,” he said. “They don’t want to hear about it. If we ask them politely, they refuse.

“They don’t care if they get other people sick, and that’s what’s crazy about it. It’s an issue.

“We want to be respectful to everybody, but at the same time, people are not respectful to each other.”

Patel said an older female customer on Sunday asked a young man not to get so close.

“He’s like ‘Oh, don’t worry about it. I don’t have corona,’” Patel said. “ You don’t have the symptoms, but that doesn’t mean you’re not a carrier and she’s old. You need to step away from her, and he wasn’t having any of it, and what do you do at that point?”

Top 20 liquor sales in Ohio (April 2020)

1. Tito’s Handmade Vodka (1.75 Liter)

2. Hennessy V.S. (750 ml)

3. Hennessy V.S. (375 ml)

4. Patron Silver (750 ml)

5. Tito’s Handmade Vodka (1 liter)

6. Patron Silver (375 ml)

7. Crown Royal Regal Apple (750 ml)

8. Tito’s Handmade Vodka (750 ml)

9. Jack Daniel’s (1.75 Liter)

10. Hennessy V.S. (1 Liter)

11. Jack Daniel’s (750 ml)

12. Crown Royal Peach (750 ml)

13. Crown Royal (1.75 Liter)

14. Crown Royal Regal Apple (1 Liter)

15. Smirnoff (1.75 Liter)

16. Jack Daniel’s (1 Liter)

17. Crown Royal (750 ml)

18. Captain Morgan (1.75 Liter)

19. Jim Beam (1.75 Liter)

20. Skrewball (750 ml)