On Tuesday, Chicago experienced its first St. Patrick’s Day without bars since Prohibition nearly a century ago, but at least one liquor store chain said the Irish whiskey is nonetheless flowing.
Binny’s Beverage Depot, a 72-year-old, family-owned Chicago liquor retailer with 42 Illinois locations, is well-stocked and moving a lot of Jameson and Bushmills in the wake of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s order closing all bars through March 30.
“In terms of business, it’s not like a grocery store where we’re running out of toilet paper,” Binny’s spokesman Greg Versch said Monday. “But we are seeing all the St. Patrick’s Day classics selling well."
Stay-at-home drinking -- even alone -- may be the new pub crawl in the age of coronavirus.
Revelers packed Chicago bars Saturday in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, ignoring warnings from health officials to steer clear of large gatherings to minimize the spread of the growing outbreak.
On Sunday, Pritzker announced that effective end of business Monday, bars and restaurants would be closed to dine-in customers through March 30.
While closing the bars will no doubt impact liquor sales, some of that on-premise business will shift to at-home celebrations over the next two weeks and perhaps beyond, Versch said.
“I would anticipate increased business,” Versch said. “We are working with statewide distributors to continue to remain stocked up.”
Versch said the state’s largest liquor chain has enough product on hand to meet a short-term surge in demand, and believes the supply chain will remain unbroken despite the coronavirus outbreak.
The Illinois Liquor Control Act of 1934, which became law after Prohibition was repealed, created a three-tier system of producers, distributors and retailers. It requires that any alcohol shipped to the state must go through a distributor and be sold by a retailer with a physical location in the state.
Those retailers include grocery stores, package liquor stores, restaurants and bars.
Jeremy Kruidenier, vice executive director of Wine and Spirits Distributors of Illinois, a not-for-profit trade association, declined to comment Monday on the depth of supply, and whether demand is expected to shift from bars to retail stores.
Vin Chicago, a family-owned Chicago wine store since 1934, has seen a boost in business in recent weeks as families stock up on supplies for what may be a long stretch of relative isolation.
The temporary closing of bars and restaurants will “definitely” increase sales in the weeks ahead, third-generation owner Peter Schwarzbach said Monday.
“I think as the restaurants and bars are closed for a few weeks, we’ll see increased demand as people are enjoying their wine at home,” said Schwarzbach, 50.
Vin Chicago has three locations, including Chicago, Highland Park and Barrington. The stores have implemented a seven-foot social distancing policy, heightened sanitation practices and a modified checkout procedure to minimize physical contact.
“The customers are staying away from each other,” Schwarzbach said. "I think each day, everyone is getting a little more accustomed to the new way to interact.”
But increasingly, customers are opting for online or phone orders and curbside pickup, where a Vin associate will put the wine directly in their vehicle’s trunk.
“We’re trying to accommodate whatever comfort zone people have,” Schwarzbach said.
Binny’s has canceled all wine tasting and events while ramping up store cleaning procedures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and put customers at ease. That includes putting hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes at the service counter, wiping down surfaces regularly and monitoring the restrooms, Versch said.
At the same time, Binny’s is encouraging customers to order product online for in-store pickup or one-hour delivery through Instacart.
At Schaefer’s, an 84-year-old, family-owned wine, food and liquor store near the Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie, it’s been mostly business as usual.The temporary closing of bars, however, is not expected to provide a significant boost.
“The North Shore of Chicago isn’t going to be hugely affected by bars closing down -- even for St. Patrick’s Day,” said Anje Cluxton, 44, president of Schaefer’s and granddaughter of its namesake founder, George Schaefer.
Schaefer’s has put product sampling on hiatus and increased cleaning efforts, like its competitors. The store has also encouraged delivery to make customers “feel safe,” Cluxton said, but many regulars are seemingly undeterred from their normal shopping routine.
“People are still coming in the store,” Cluxton said. “Every customer that’s coming in here is like, ‘I’ll see you next week.’ This is maybe their one exception of where they’re going to go shopping.”
While closing bars may not funnel more customers to Schaefer’s, the liquor store is maintaining its business amid cancellations of parties, charity events and fundraisers, a sign that it too serves a basic human need during the temporary end of social drinking.
“We expect there will be no gatherings,” Cluxton said. “However, day-to-day consumption and relaxation during these difficult times may require a bottle of wine or a glass of beer at some point.”
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