Beer, wine and liquor stores continue to have strong sales even as pandemic eases
ALBANY – Restaurants and taverns are increasing their seating and hours as pandemic restrictions continue to ease, but many New Yorkers continue to drink at home.
Sales at New York City beer, wine and liquor stores surged in the first year of the pandemic and fell even larger percentages at seated establishments. The two can balance each other out: Industry numbers show only small changes in overall sales from year to year.
Several local liquor retailers told The Gazette last week that their sales remained strong even as the COVID-19 crisis that had fueled their sales boom subsided.
Restaurant owners, meanwhile, learned that one of the lifelines the state had given them during the worst of the pandemic – permission to sell take-out alcohol – would be revoked earlier Thursday. than expected and with only one day’s notice.
A group of Capital Region restaurateurs and craft beverage producers met Thursday at Yankee Distillers in Clifton Park to urge the state legislature to renew the privilege.
Scott Wexler, executive director of the Empire State Restaurant & Tavern Association, said the trends are not favorable.
“During the pandemic, restaurants and bars lost nearly 60% of their liquor sales while liquor stores saw their sales increase by 39%,” he said. “As many observers believe the pandemic has not brought about change [but] accelerated, we don’t know how much of those lost sales we’re going to recover and how much the liquor stores have stolen from us.
On-site alcohol consumption (in a restaurant, tavern, or other commercial establishment) was limited or even discontinued in many locations during the pandemic, leaving consumption off-site (in a private residence or public space) as alternative.
National sales figures compiled by industries indicate that slightly less beer, slightly more distilled spirits and slightly more wine were sold in 2020 than in 2019.
New York State taxable sales data is organized by type of seller, not by type of goods sold. So that doesn’t indicate how many more beer and hard seltzer supermarkets were sold or how many fewer cocktail and shot restaurants were sold in 2020, as alcohol is a small component of their overall sales.
But most sales at beer stores and wine and liquor stores are alcohol, so their taxable sales data is clearer.
The sales tax year aligns precisely with the first year of the New York pandemic – March 1, 2020 to February 28, 2021. Taxable sales of these specialty retailers during this period were 23% higher than in sales tax 2019-2020 year.
Of the seven Mohawk Valley and Capital Region counties listed for this story, Fulton County experienced the largest year-over-year increase in taxable sales at its beer stores, wine and spirits: 35.8%
Tracy Green, owner of Fulton Street Liquors in Gloversville, suspects that the large number of seasonal residences in Fulton County was a key factor in 2020, when many people who were able to leave the big cities did.
“We had in this region a lot of people from the lower part of the state who came to spend the rest of the year in their camps,” he said.
Its sales have increased significantly in 2020 compared to 2019 and still exceed 2019 this year, but not as well.
Green said, however, that this was a new store, opened in 2018, and much of the growth came from new customers coming in to take a look and leaving with a bottle or three.
“Our alcohol sales have grown well above the state average. It was double the state average, ”he said.
And he saw the trend reported nationally by the Distilled Spirits Council: increased sales of premium products rather than budget products.
“They are now going back to the cheaper brands,” Green said.
Marc Hughes, owner of Midtown Discount Beverage in Johnstown, said he had never seen such sales volume in his quarter century of operating the beer store.
But he had to work on it.
“There are so many production issues that I phone and order as much as I can so no one else can get it,” Hughes said.
The money was great, even with the limited profit margin on beer, but the physical and mental stress was also great – he cut store hours to try and limit that.
External factors also contribute. About 95% of transactions are pleasant, but a handful of customers prefer a missing or more expensive brand, and that runs out quickly.
“Do you understand it’s a pandemic?” Hughes means. “There are shortages. The prices are higher.
He hopes to find some time to relax when things get back to normal.
“I guess I’ll be riding the big wave,” he said.
Schenectady County has also seen a sharp increase in taxable sales at its beer, wine and liquor stores, state data shows: the total rose from $ 28.3 million in 2019-20 to 37 , $ 1 million in 2020-2021, or 30.9%.
Andrew Crounse, owner of Glenville Beverage, remembers the very start of the sales spike in March 2020.
“When the lockdown hit this Friday, it went from a normal Friday to Memorial Day,” he said. This continued until the end of 2020 and continues to a lesser extent to the present day.
“I’m still probably up 25%, 30%,” Crounse said.
He finds people who still want to drink at home instead of going out, especially the many people who invested in swimming pools, patios and other home improvements over the past year.
“Now their role model is, instead of going out all the time they like to sit in their garden,” Crounse said. “It kind of helps our business – it’s more offsite now. You could go home with a six pack or a 12 pack for the price of two beers at a restaurant.
A negative result of the pandemic? The tight labor market.
“Right now I’m having a hard time getting help,” Crounse said. “I am working more than ever now. It’s been a bit difficult lately.
Everything comes and goes, he said, but he doesn’t expect his beer sales to drop back to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon.
On a larger scale, the roughly 350 Stewart’s Shops saw beer sales surge in 2020, along with milk, eggs, ice cream and other groceries sought after by those isolated at home. Beer sales continue to increase in 2021.
“We have seen a 16% increase in beer sales and an increase in seltzer sales from 2020 to 2021,” spokeswoman Erica Komoroske said. “We anticipate continued sales growth in the beer category as we head into the busy summer season. “
PROBLEMS FOR PRODUCERS
For the many local producers of craft drinks, the economic impact of the pandemic has depended heavily on their main sales channel. Those who have their own canning equipment, or have access to it by contract, have done well with increased sales of cans and bottles.
Those who relied on the sale of draft beer in their bars or on draft in restaurants and bars have been hit hard.
“Alternative models for releasing their beer had to be created,” said Paul Leone, executive director of the New York State Brewers Association. “Brewers with canning lines haven’t had much of a problem.”
A dozen breweries have closed statewide since the start of the pandemic, he said, and 26 have opened. Because opening a brewery is a two-year process, there will likely be a drop in large openings of new breweries in the near future: those that opened amid the pandemic were already underway when the crisis hit. started, and the crisis may have put a damper on plans for new breweries.
Dan Bronson, general manager of craft brewer SingleCut, said his breweries in Clifton Park and Queens have high-capacity canning systems.
“We were fortunate to be able to pivot our production to cans,” he said, and to benefit from a mini-boom in cans sales in the spring of 2020.
SingleCut didn’t need to put anyone on leave and in fact increased its workforce slightly in 2020.
Midway through 2021, Bronson described the outlook as optimistic but uncertain.
“It has certainly been more stable than in 2020,” he said. “Project demand is up exponentially compared to 2020, but still less than in 2019.”
And not everything is perfect with can sales either: Material and labor shortages are affecting multiple industries, and the effect is spilling over to SingleCut and other craft brewers.
“We actually had to hire a repairman to get ready to import cans from overseas ourselves,” Bronson said.
Labels, corrugated cardboard and other materials can also be difficult to find, and once they are attached, there can be a wait for transportation.
A barrel truck bound for SingleCut had been languishing for seven days in Pennsylvania when Bronson spoke to The Gazette on Tuesday – no truck driver was available for pickup.
The sales increases shown in statewide data and in these individual anecdotes don’t necessarily mean New Yorkers are drinking significantly more.
The sharp increase in retail sales of cans and bottles for off-premises consumption appears to be largely offset by lower on-site consumption.
Nationally, beer sales declined 2.9% and distilled spirits sales increased 5.3% in volume in 2020 from 2019, according to trade groups for the respective industries. Matching estimates are offered for wine sales in 2020, but none indicate a major change.
Wexler, of the Restaurant and Tavern Association, said its members have a long way to go.
He said by e-mail: “Since the Assembly and the Senate have not passed legislation allowing restaurants to sell take-out cocktails and the state has excluded most restaurants from the subsidy program for the recovery of small businesses, we enter the recovery with one hand tied behind our back. “
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