Economy

At Old Town Liquors on Bardstown Road, people come by car, by truck and by foot. They line up alongside the building and place their order through a window in the bizarre fashion that now seems a new normal — smiles often covered by masks, hands sometimes wrapped in gloves.

The COVID-19 pandemic has decimated many businesses across the state. Restaurants and bars and retail stores have been effectively shut down since early March, when the disease began to spread. To date, more than 7,880 people have been infected and 334 people have died in Kentucky.

One industry, however, has seemed to not only weather the downturn, but has thrived — the alcohol business.

State tax revenue data released earlier this month show that beer, wine and spirits sales in April brought in more than $13.5 million in revenue, a 12% spike compared with the same time last year.

From the drive-thru window at Old Town Liquors, Heather Drury has a frontrow view of the boom. She said more people are buying in bulk than before the pandemic, and they’re also branching out and trying new things.

“Cocktails,” she said. “I think that is a new hobby people have picked up.”

Margaritas remain a popular choice for many, she said. And some people are forgoing the pre-fab mixes for more artisanal recipes that call for fresh squeezed juice and liqueurs. 

The experience of shopping for booze, though, has changed, she said. At places like Old Town, it was once common for people to saunter the aisles, browsing the bottles. These days, that’s not happening. So, Drury said staff will do the browsing for them, in a way. 

Kristen Becht didn’t need to browse when she walked to the window Saturday afternoon. She got a pack of Whiteclaw and some sake and took off across the parking lot holding her goods in a brown paper bag.

She works in marketing and during the pandemic has been able to work from home. When she’s not working, she said her days are pretty easy going. Becht and her boyfriend watch movies, chat online with friends, and browse the web.

And they drink.

“Definitely,” she said.

At first, when the pandemic had just begun, Becht said they were drinking more than they are now.

“When it first started and both us didn’t know how to cope with not being able to go out, not being able to socialize, I’d say we were drinking,” she said.

Becht said she misses the simple pleasures of being among other people, and she’s looking forward to doing it again. But, she doesn’t know when that will be. Restaurants are slated to open in limited capacities next week, and bars will be able to open in early July. Becht, though, said she won’t be rushing to her favorite haunts just yet.

“I’m going to play it cool,” she said. “We’ll see how it plays out, let some other people be the guinea pigs.”

So, for now, she just spends her time at home with her partner. They make dinner, turn on a movie, and enjoy a drink.

City officials have acknowledged that people are consuming more alcohol than before the pandemic. Mayor Greg Fischer has even encouraged residents to “pop a cold one” if they so choose. But, Sarah Moyer, the city’s top health official, warns that turning to alcohol is not the best way to cope with the stress of the pandemic. In fact, alcohol can make people more vulnerable to COVID-19, she said.

“While drinking alcohol occasionally is okay for most people, it’s really important that we keep an eye on how much you’re drinking,” Moyer said.

And if you’re concerned about your own drinking, reach out for help. Support groups are still available during the pandemic. Here are some resources:

Greater Louisville Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous – 502-582-1849

Louisville Area of Narcotics Anonymous – 569-1769

The Healing Place – Men’s campus: 502-583-0369 – Women’s campus: 502-568-6680

Centerstone – (502) 589-1100

 

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.