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Alcohol Sales Soared As Stay-At-Home Orders Came

When the pandemic hit back in March, stores run by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board were deemed essential businesses. Sales of alcohol quickly shot up. (Photo: Pexels)

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated, "Between March and November, ABC took in over $9 million in statewide sales. In the Richmond region, it’s just over $1 million.”  It should have been $948 million and $142 million, respectively. We have updated the article.

As soon as the stay-at-home guidelines began, CEO Travis Hill says he knew sales were about to spike.

“You could really see when there was an announcement around further restrictions or stay-at-home orders, you would see these spikes in purchasing,” Hill said.

Between March and November, ABC took in over $948 million in statewide sales. In the Richmond region, it’s just over $142 million.**

Of just the top five brands sold during that time frame, over a million gallons of alcohol entered the Richmond region.

“Generally this time of year, we're shipping, you know, 24,000, 28,000 cases in a day. We were doing those numbers in March, April, May, June, it was like we were having a holiday type volume,” he said.

Hill said it was the right call to keep the stores open during lockdown, and the long closures of liquor stores in states like Pennsylvania increased travel and may have exposed more people to the coronavirus.

“And you ended up sending customers across state lines, because they still wanted to make their purchases. So I think it was the right call to keep us open,” Hill said.

According to sales figures provided by ABC, the company ended the fiscal year in June with over a billion dollars in revenue. 

ABC stores were created in Virginia in 1934. The state is just one of 17 “control states,” where the state government manages the sale and distribution of distilled spirits at the wholesale level.  

The company operates 390 retail stores, with 50 in the Richmond region. Last year, these stores shelled out over two million gallons of alcohol and took in over $1.76 million in gross sales.

Because of the sales boom, Hill says the company had to hire more staff.

“I think we've hired over 1000 people now, new hires,” he said.

In Northern Virginia, staffing shortages forced ABC to close 15 stores for a month while they hired more people.

To help speed sales and reduce in-person contacts due to the pandemic, the company introduced curbside pick up and offered home shipping from a store in Suffolk. And the organization deferred license fees to help restaurants stay afloat. 

Like many retail stores, ABC put in plexiglass barriers and instituted strict cleaning procedures. And, they even handed out masks and buttons to their employees that say, “You can’t tell but I’m smiling.”

ABC also reveals the  top alcohol brand sold each year. This year, that honor goes to Tito’s Handmade Vodka, with over 400,000 gallons sold statewide. 

Hill says after Thanksgiving, sales dropped back down to normal levels, and he expects that trend to continue into spring. 

*Sale figures supplied by ABC

Ian M. Stewart previously was the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.
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