Shoppers stock up on distilled spirits amid fears Virginia ABC stores might close

Shoppers stock up on distilled spirits amid fears Virginia ABC stores might close
A Virginia ABC store. (Source: NBC12)

As confirmed COVID-19 cases rise rapidly, Virginians are hunkering down and stocking up on essentials should the government order a severe lockdown that shutters nearly all commerce.

Meat? Check. Canned goods? Check. Toilet paper and disinfectants? Check.

Liquor? Double-check.

Across Virginia, the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control stores are seeing a significant jump in business, likely by people preparing for an extended period of home isolation, said Taylor Thornburg, a spokeswoman for the ABC. The agency holds a monopoly on distilled spirit sales in Virginia and state government thus far has deemed it an essential service and chosen to keep the stores open. But as confirmed coronavirus cases increase exponentially, there’s no guarantee that will remain the same.

That was on the mind of one shopper on Sunday who perused the bourbon aisle of a large suburban Richmond ABC store and added a bottle of Woodford Reserve to a basket he carried.

“The governor at any point could close all the stores. It’s happened in other states, even in the past 24 hours,” said Brennen Keene, an attorney who is practicing social distancing by working remotely from his Chesterfield home. “Look at what’s happening now in New York. It’s definitely going to get worse.”

Last week, ABC closed one store in Richmond for two weeks after the roommate of a store employee tested positive for the disease, Thornburg said. The ABC has also reduced hours for 24 stores on the Peninsula, including Williamsburg, Newport News and Hampton, to reduce exposure and protect staff, she said. The new hours are noon to 7 p.m.

“We will maintain store operations as long as it is safe to do so,” Thornburg said. “We will base our plans on the recommendations of the VDH (Virginia Department of Health) and the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).”

Shoppers are doing more shopping online, she said. While home delivery or mail delivery is not possible, ordering ahead online minimizes the time customers are in the store because purchases are prepaid by credit card. At some stores, she said, employees can walk orders out for curbside pickup if customers call the store in advance and if there are sufficient staff on hand.

The Virginia Mercury is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.