Coronavirus in DC Area

Alcohol Business Booming in DC Area

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Washington, D.C.-area alcohol sales have surged in the weeks after local stay-at-home orders, at least partly fueled by the closure of liquor sales in much of neighboring Pennsylvania.

A series of records requests and interviews by the News4 I-Team found the spike was most pronounced in March. 

“Because everybody is staying home, it’s the only vice they can have in these changing times,” said Suzanne Lewis, owner of Ballenger Creek Liquors in Frederick, Maryland.

Lewis told the I-Team her daily sales numbers have doubled prior years and are hovering above traditional peak Christmas season levels.  

“We are seeing big numbers every day, but Fridays Saturdays and Sundays are still the busiest,” Lewis said.

Sales records obtained from the Virginia Board of Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority show a $20 million dollar increase in sales in March 2020, compared to March 2019. Sales in April remained more than 10 percent higher than April 2020.

Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Authority Chief Executive Officer Travis Hill said some of the sales might have been inspired by the recent shutdown of some liquor sales in Pennsylvania.

“Seeing Pennsylvania shut their stores down.  It drove some people to go out and shop a little bit more,” Hill said.  

Hill said his agency is expanding curbside pickup to keep up with the increase in purchases and to better protect customers amid social distancing restrictions.   

“Online orders have increased tremendously,” Hill said. “We are seeing larger numbers than ever with online ordering.”

In Maryland, alcohol sales figures are unavailable because the state comptroller has placed a temporary moratorium on the collection of alcohol sales taxes during the emergency. In Frederick County, which borders Pennsylvania, store owners report spillover of business from Pennsylvania. The I-Team spent several hours outside a pair of liquor stores in Emmitsburg, the closest city to the state line, and tallied 80 percent of vehicles entering the parking lot had Pennslyvania license plates.

In Montgomery County, which operates 25 of its own liquor stores, sales jumped by $4 million in March 2020 and continue to trend higher than 2019 levels. A county spokeswoman said its retail sales were already ahead of 2019 levels prior to the COVID-19 emergency. The size of the increase has risen since early March and the governor’s emergency order.

Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.

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