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UPDATE: Liquor store sales up during epidemic while demand puts ABC in bind

By JACK WEATHERLY

A number of liquor stores are doing a booming business during the corona virus outbreak, causing delivery problems for some.

The state Alcoholic Beverage Control agency, meantime, has taken steps to make things more efficient.

The ABC started allowing curbside deliveries on March 16 and will extend it until April 30, with the possibility of stretching it to 120 days, according to the agency website.

The agency is now allowing customers to submit orders and pay retailers by telephone or internet.

The ABC distributes over 3 million cases of spirits and wines annually from its 211,000-square-foot warehouse located in Madison.

State law requires the ABC to mark up the wholesale price by 27.5 percent over what it pays its suppliers. This “wholesale” markup generated nearly $67 million in revenue for fiscal 2019, not counting the sales taxes which were also collected on retail liquor sales. An earlier version of this article put the figure at $32 million.

Thus the State of Mississippi decides what selection of products liquor retailers can offer to their customers and the minimum prices at which they sell to them. Some label the arrangement a monopoly.

The ABC deliveries were days late in some cases, after the first wave of fear of possibly being unable to put your hand on a favorite adult beverage struck the buying public – after the statewide closing of restaurants and bars.

And just when more people had more time to entertain themselves at home because of furloughs or temporary work stoppages.

Rudy Daghmach, owner of Ridgeland Discount Wine and Spirits, said on Monday that the store is “a little busier than usual,” but that deliveries from ABC have been slow. An order made last Wednesday normally would be at the store by Friday, but that now it may be this Wednesday.

A survey of metro Jackson liquor and wine retailers elicited responses ranging from being “slammed” with customers to better than normal.

Becky Asher, a salesclerk for Kats Wine and Spirits in Belhaven, said Monday that the store was so busy she couldn’t talk to a reporter.

Janes Butler, a supervisor at Silver Leaf Wine and Spirits, said, “We’re slammed. We’ve been very busy since Thursday.”

R.W. Sullivan, owner of Bottle Shop Wine and Liquor at 6270 Old Canton Rd., said business is normal, but that “who knows . . . it could get ugly.”

Nick Lord, general manager of Wine Spirits in the Quarter, said delivery has not been a problem. He said he has had to shorten hours due to sanitizing duties. Normally hours are 10 a.m. until 10 a.m.; for the time being the shop is closing at 6 p.m., he said.

There is a lot of sanitizing after each customer leaves. We want to be responsible.”

Jacob Manley, speaking on behalf ABC, said the agency was not aware of any delays, but that it is asking retailers to limit their orders to 100 cases or fewer and that stores should not expect next-day delivery.

Chip Jones, deputy director of the ABC, said Tuesday that the maximum daily order is about 600 cases. He said the corona virus effect is  “double-edged sword.” It is like holiday buying but the ABC has for the time being a reduced staff, due to at-risk employees being sent home.

Normally, daily orders are between 13,000 and 14,000 cases. Since the outbreak, its more like 20,000, as customers stock up.

Manley said the ABC warehouse is at capacity.

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About Jack Weatherly