Municipal liquor stores see change in buying habits during COVID-19 pandemic

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Liquor stores have remained opened during Minnesota’s 'stay at home' order, leading to record sales for some municipally owned operations.

The city of Mound’s Harbor Wine & Spirit set a record sales day back in March for $33,692.

During March, the city saw a 39% increase in sales compared to March of last year.

Sales continue to be up in the first half of April, with a 26% increase over 2019, according to the city of Mound.

"They still want their happy hour, their cocktails but know they weren't going to have them in restaurants and bars," said Ron Gust, manager at Mound's municipal liquor store. “People are buying everything now they are looking for the next most interesting thing.”

At times during the COVID-19 pandemic, on warm days, Gust said staff waits outside the doors to limit the number of customers inside.

"Just trying to keep people safe," Gust said.

"The beginning of the 'stay at home' order, that was an increase that nobody could have predicted," said Mike Larson, liquor operations manager for the City of St. Anthony Village. “It keeps going."

In March, Larson said the two city-owned stores saw an increase in monthly sales of 31% compared to last year.

"The amount of sales we've experienced is something — after 32 years in this business — I've never seen it like this," Larson said.

Larson doesn’t expect that high of sales in April due to their stores being closed at times.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS checked with several other municipalities that operate liquor stores. Finding the biggest jump in sales of those surveyed was in Lakeville, at around a 60% increase in March.

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"It's been exhausting because obviously there is some loss of staff due to the fears, so we are running with condensed hours," said Brenda Visnovec, Lakeville’s liquor operations director.

Visnovec expects Lakeville’s stores will break another sales record in April.

In the past, gross sales for their three locations exceed $15 million annually, with $5.3 million over the last five years going back to the community for snowplows, police cars, fire stations and other safety equipment, according to the Lakeville's website.

The city of Edina had a 3% increase in March sales compared to the same time last year, as the city closed liquor operations to shift to an online/delivery option only during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Edina officials said they could possibly reopen in-store operations in the next couple of weeks.

A State Auditor’s Reporter from December 2019 showed 190 Minnesota cities operated 223 municipal liquor stores across the state.

Customers are trying new drinks during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Customers are venturing past the beer section to different aisles of the store, according to liquor store managers.

"We are seeing a huge, dramatic, five-digit increase into wine and spirits and going away from the beer,” Visnovec said of their Lakeville customers. “It seems like people are being more creative at home.”

In Mound, Gust said they are trying to help local breweries by giving customers more unique options in the beer section during the pandemic.