Minnesotans stormed the state’s liquor stores over the past week, leaving some in complete disarray as shoppers stocked up in the face of the coronavirus.
Now, drinkers and distributors alike wonder: If Gov. Tim Walz orders Minnesotans to “shelter in place,” will the places that sell beer, wine and liquor get to stay open as “essential services”?
“A friend who owns a liquor store told me he’s concerned about the state closing his store,” Carol Niznik of Coon Rapids said while shopping at the liquor outlet next to a Cub Foods in St. Louis Park on Monday evening.
“It’s not for me to say if liquor is an essential, but what if we do a shutdown like New York?” she asked.
When New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday told New Yorkers to stay home as much as possible, liquor and convenience stores were told they could remain open.
In his daily news conference, Walz on Tuesday afternoon said he’s still considering if and when to issue a shelter-in-place order. A spokesman later said the details, including its effects on liquor stores, are also unresolved.
But the prospect of being cut off from alcohol supplies has loomed larger for Minnesotans since Walz last week ordered bars and restaurants to close except for takeout orders.
“Whenever the governor speaks, people think we’re going to close,” said Jennifer Schoenzeit, owner of Zipps Liquors in Minneapolis.
Last Friday, that fear produced a shopping frenzy from which some stores were still recovering on Tuesday.
“It was mayhem,” said Judd Greenagel, owner of Liquor Boy in St. Louis Park, which experienced the highest sales in its eight-year history.
“People were tripping over each other and breaking things,” said Brenda Visnovec, manager of Lake-ville’s municipal liquor stores. “As it got closer to the governor’s 2 p.m. speech, you could see the hordes of people coming in.”
Shoppers got so out of control that municipal stores in Lakeville, Edina, Brooklyn Center, Elk River and Columbia Heights closed temporarily.
Visnovec said her staff needed time out to figure out proper sanitizing, limits on the number of people in stores, and curbside pickup and delivery. Lakeville’s liquor stores reopened Tuesday and, barring an order from Walz, will stay open Mondays through Saturdays.
Separately Tuesday, Richfield’s municipal-owned liquor store temporarily closed two of its four locations.
Some liquor stores imposed social distancing rules on shoppers, encouraging them to keep away from each other to reduce the chance of spreading the virus. At Surdyk’s in Minneapolis, that led to an awkward-looking line out the door with waiting customers standing several feet apart.
Liquor stores that stayed open through the weekend began looking for more workers to cope with the surging demand.
Ryan Widuch, co-owner of Elevated Beer, Wine & Spirits in Minneapolis and White Bear Lake, said he’s adding seven people that, for now, he’s calling “seasonal” employees.
“With so many people laid off, you don’t have to look far,” Widuch said. “We just put a sign on the door.”
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers issued a “safer at home” order on Tuesday that closed most of the state’s businesses. Liquor stores in Wisconsin stayed open, although some are resorting to curbside pickup and delivery only.
In California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a stay-at-home order last Thursday, liquor is widely available in grocery stores, which were dubbed essential for residents. Pennsylvania stopped the sale of liquor at state-owned liquor stores, though beer and wine can still be purchased in most supermarkets and convenience stores.
The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association has been in constant contact with legislators and officials in Walz’s office, said Tony Chesak, the group’s executive director.
“We are hearing no sign from the governor’s office that indicates … closing down,” he said. “As soon as there are more developments, we are encouraging increasing delivery and curbside pickups.”
The municipally owned liquor stores in Elk River that closed last week are expected to reopen on Saturday.
“We were doing four times our normal business last week. It was panic buying,” said Joe Audette, liquor operation manager in Elk River. “Customers told us on three separate days last week that today is the day the government is going to shut you down.”