Monday, June 27, 2022

New Hanover ABC retail sales up nearly 50 percent in March, no plans to close stores

This week New Hanover County ABC Board opened its liquor-by-the-drink (LBD) distribution facility off Market Street, behind Auto Wholesale, to accommodate senior customers who wish to avoid the risk of more crowded ABC stores. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
This week New Hanover County ABC Board opened its liquor-by-the-drink (LBD) distribution facility off Market Street, behind the Auto Wholesale dealership, to accommodate senior customers who wish to avoid the risk of more crowded ABC stores. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — In a month when local bars and restaurants took a massive hit from the Covid-19 pandemic, people flocked to their local ABC liquor stores — most to stock up, but at least a few to make their own sanitizer solution.

ABC retail liquor sales in New Hanover County increased 47 percent last month compared to March 2019, according to Charles Hill, general manager of the New Hanover County ABC Board. 

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Although liquor-by-the-drink (LBD) sales to restaurants and bars decreased by 42 percent in the same period, retail stores overcompensated. Total sales last March increased by 19 percent, according to Hill. (These numbers don’t include March 31 sales, he said, which are still being tallied.)

“When they closed bars and restaurants and put the stay-at-home order in, and started restricting everyone, I think everyone went into a panic that we would close,” Hill said.

One particular high-alcohol vodka, Everclear, spiked noticeably in sales, according to Hill, due to people using it to make their own sanitizing solution at home (the state banned sales of Everclear and other high-proof grain alcohol in 2010, but later recanted). Local distilleries are also trying to satisfy a shortage in the sanitation market — Hill provided a list of 30 North Carolina distilleries now producing their own solutions, including End of Days Distillery in Wilmington and Diablo Distilleries in Jacksonville.

There has also been a surge in sales of 1.75-liter liquor bottles, Hill said, due to people hoping to stock up during the month-long stay-at-home order initiated by Governor Roy Cooper early Monday evening.

Hill said rumors have been circulating on social media platforms that ABC was planning to close its stores on Friday.

“It’s all a hoax,” Hill said. “If you click on the link it says, ‘You’ve been pranked.’ We have no intention of closing unless state or local authorities tell us to.”

Some rumors may be originating from an announcement last week that, beginning March 25, the county’s ABC stores would begin opening an hour later, at 11 a.m., and closing two hours earlier, at 7 p.m.

‘Senior Patrons Only’

A sign posted at the ABC store on 17th and Castle Street driectos senior patrons to a temporary store set up at the 6009 Market Street distribution facility. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
A sign posted at the ABC store on 17th and Castle Street directs senior patrons to a temporary store set up at ABC’s Market Street distribution facility. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

On Monday, New Hanover ABC opened its LBD distribution facility behind the Auto Wholesale dealership on Market Street to accommodate senior residents or others who believe they are at a higher risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus. An ‘ABC Spirits’ sign was taped to the front windows while a wall of boxes sat behind the front counter; all are 1.75-liter liquor bottles on the top-20 sales list of two Wilmington stores, according to Liz McGee, store manager.

The store, located at 6009 Market Street, is open from 9 a.m. to noon from Monday through Friday. These hours are more convenient for senior patrons, according to Hill, who often awake early and do their shopping in the morning. More importantly, converting the distribution facility to a temporary retail outlet allows these customers to continue buying liquor while avoiding larger crowds at other local ABC stores, he said.

Although it doesn’t have as large of a selection as other retail stores, McGee said clerks run to the back warehouse and grab a particular product someone is looking for, when necessary.

“We’ve had everything people have wanted so far,” McGee said.

Deliveries have been made to people in their cars in the parking lot, according to McGee, while credit cards are brought inside to complete transactions. After every purchase, she said an employee wipes down the card processor’s PIN pad and sprays the counter.

Hill said other stores are taking precautions to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 as well, first by limiting the number of customers inside to 10 at a time. Additionally, hours were shortened to give employees more time to clean; all employees are given gloves, sanitizer, and disinfectant spray, according to Hill. 

“By limiting the customers in stores, everybody feels safer,” Hill said.

The 6009 Market Street location can be reached by turning off Market Street at the Auto Wholesale dealership onto Judges Road then driving about 200 feet before taking a right.

A wall of boxes sits behind the front counter — all 1.75-liter liquor bottles on the top-20 sales list of two Wilmington stores. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
A wall of boxes sits behind the front counter of the distribution-turned-retail location. All are 1.75-liter liquor bottles on the top-20 sales list of two Wilmington stores. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

Send tips and comments mark@localvoicemedia.com, @markdarrough on Twitter, or (970) 413-3815

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