Coronavirus: Some off licences reporting sharp increases in sales

One operator says customer volumes ‘like Christmas again’ but others opting to close doors to be safe

Restrictions on socialising and mass gatherings linked to the coronavirus have resulted in an increase in alcohol sales in off licences, with one operator saying business peaked after school closures were announced.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last week called for people to observe social-distancing to slow the spread of the virus and indoor gatherings have been limited to fewer than 100 people. The Government has also called on pubs and bars to close until March 29th in response to the pandemic.

Off licence operators say these measures have resulted in increased footfall and sales, particularly of fine wines.

Joel Durand, the owner of Blackrock Cellar in Co Dublin, said the past few days had "been like Christmas again".

“They’re not panicking or anything, they’re all very calm, but a lot of people are coming in and buying big,” he said. “Following the announcement on Thursday, the sales were up 50 per cent. But yesterday [Sunday], sales were triple what they were on the same day last year.”

Mr Durand said most people were buying higher-end products such as premium wines and craft beers.

“It seems like people want to drink something nice when they’re locked away. With Paddy’s Day, most people will be celebrating at home so they’re treating themselves.”

Peak

Mark Torney, a manager at The Wine Centre in Kilkenny, said while sales on Saturday and Sunday were similar to other bank holiday weekends, "there was definitely a peak on Thursday when it was announced kids were off school".

“It’s kind of more Christmas style than panic-buying. Thursday was probably about three times the amount of customers as any other Thursday. It was predominantly nice bottles of wine, rather than slabs of cans or anything like that,” he said.

Despite the reported increase in sales of take-home wine and beer, Whelehans Wines, off the Bray Road in Co Dublin, decided to close down its restaurant, wine bar, shop and online ordering services for the foreseeable future.

David Whelehan said the decision was a difficult one to make, but "we felt it was best practice to close".

“We did an awful lot of soul searching, an awful lot of sleepless nights, but we wanted to minimise social interaction as much as possible,” he said.

Asked why the company did not proceed with online sales, he said: “There would be less people involved but there would still be people involved. There’s a whole supply chain involved there. The general feeling of the whole team was to take the social-distancing very seriously.”

Garett Connolly, owner of Baggot Street Wines and Whiskey, opted to close on Sunday night after the Government announced restrictions on pubs and clubs.

“I felt there was going to be increased footfall when they closed down the pubs and bars and I didn’t want to put the health and safety of my staff at risk,” he said.

“It was a really tough decision but it just didn’t feel right staying open. Some things are more important than keeping the door open.”