COLUMBUS, Ohio — When bars shut down, Ohioans stocked up.
State consumer liquor sales spiked to a record level after the state closed bars and restaurants because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Liquor sales started climbing in early March but leaped after the state announced on March 15 that bars and restaurants would be shut down that evening.
From March 15 to 21, Ohioans spent $38.7 million to buy 437,507 gallons of liquor. That’s 63% more booze than Ohioans bought in the same week in 2019.
“That Sunday, we had to call in an extra employee. The line wouldn’t end; people just rushed in,” said Sunny Patel, whose family owns four central Ohio liquor stores, including Chateau Wine & Spirits shops on Sawmill Road on the Northwest Side and on Polaris Parkway on the Far North Side.
Customers were driven not only by Ohio’s decision to close bars and restaurants, but also by Pennsylvania’s move to close its liquor stores on March 16, Patel said.
“People worried it might happen here,” he said.
(Pennsylvania has since reopened the stores for limited online sales.)
In the four full weeks of March, Ohioans bought 1.36 million gallons of liquor, a 23% jump over the same period last year, and well beyond the 7% average annual increase seen in recent years.
Ohioans bought more liquor in March than during any previous March on record, according to the state Division of Liquor Control.
Liquor sales remained elevated last week but were starting to return to more typical levels.
“We had a big spike for the first two weeks in March,” Jan Wilson, the wine and spirits director at Hills Market, said Wednesday. “This week is more typical for us. But that huge spike was even more than we saw at Christmas.”
Vodka and whiskey were especially in demand, liquor store managers said. Wilson said Hills ran out of Tito’s vodka and saw shelves depleted of some popular bourbons such as Woodford Reserve and Maker’s Mark.
From March 1 through March 22, the 1.75-liter bottle of Tito’s was the top-selling liquor in the state, followed by the 1-liter bottle of Tito’s.
Other brands in the Top 10 included: Patron Silver tequila; Hennessey VS cognac; Jameson Irish whiskey; Crown Royal peach and apple whiskeys; and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey.
Shelves were quickly replenished, and the state says that supply is not a problem.
“Some stores experienced unusually high demand, which resulted in some temporary holes on the shelves,” said Lindsey LeBerth, spokeswoman for the Ohio Division of Liquor Control.
“However, in most cases, these stores were a day away from their normal weekly deliveries. Those ‘out of stocks’ were resolved once the weekly deliveries arrived.”