Liquor stores deemed "essential" businesses in several US states

23 March, 2020

Liquor stores will be permitted to remain open in New York, New Jersey and California during the coronavirus pandemic after they were declared “essential businesses”.

New York has now recorded 5% of the global coronavirus cases after officials ramped up testing across the state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has declared a state of emergency and all bars have been ordered to shut their doors as authorities battle to contain the rampaging virus.

Yet essential businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies have been permitted to continue trading, and liquor stores officially fall into that category.

The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America has urged governors “to keep wine and spirits retailers open, so as to not encourage bad actors to pop-up black market liquor operations”. New York has responded to that plea by allowing drinks retailers to continue trading.

New Yorkers can also receive beer deliveries for the first time to help them stay refreshed and relaxed during the crisis, while many bars have switched to offering takeaway services.

On Sunday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed Executive Order No. 107, directing all residents to stay at home until further notice. It also enforces the closure of all non-essential retail businesses to the public, with the exceptions of a few essential businesses, including liquor stores and medical marijuana dispensaries.

“We know the virus spreads through person-to person contact, and the best way to prevent further exposure is to limit our public interactions to only the most essential purposes,” said Murphy. “This is a time for us all to come together in one mission to flatten the curve, and slow – and eventually halt – the spread of coronavirus.”

It stands in contrast to neighboring Pennsylvania, which has ordered the closure of all state-run Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores.

“This was a tremendously difficult decision to make, and we understand the disruption our store closures will have on consumers and licensees across the commonwealth,” said board chairman Tim Holden. “But in these uncertain and unprecedented times, the public health crisis and mitigation effort must take priority over the sale of wine and spirits, as the health and safety of our employees and communities is paramount.”

In Alabama, an emergency order allows curbside sales of alcoholic beverages at licensed locations in the state. This is designed to help residents practice social distancing while stocking up on beer, wines and spirits.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a statewide shelter-in-place order directing people to stay at home. However, a temporary measure from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control allows liquor stores to stay open, while restaurants and bars can sell beer, wine and premixed drinks or cocktails for pickup and delivery.

Liquor stores were also permitted to maintain operations in Kentucky after a statewide shutdown of many retail sectors. The same is true in Dallas County, Texas, continuing a nationwide trend that has seen the authorities make concessions to allow Americans to stay lubricated during these troubling times. 

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