‘It’s mind-boggling. Ninety-five percent of our customers are from Pennsylvania…’
(Michael Barnes, Liberty Headlines) The vast majority of private businesses have been deemed “non-essential” by virtue of government edict and they’ve been forced to shutter their doors in an attempt to stop the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus.
So why are liquor stores still open?
Perhaps no other datapoint better captures government hypocrisy, ignorance and blatant self-interest during the nation’s coronavirus-induced economic shutdown than to allow business-as-usual for liquor stores while crushing the livelihoods of millions of working Americans.
At least 46 states have enacted policies to close non-essential businesses, and the result has been the loss of 22 million jobs in the past four weeks.
“There’s nowhere to hide,” Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton in Chicago, told the New York Times on Thursday. “This is the deepest, fastest, most broad-based recession we’ve ever seen.”
But while construction workers, restaurant employees, retail clerks, office managers, business owners and millions of other willing workers in every corner of the economy are collateral damage, liquor stores are getting special treatment.
New Jersey’s Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy has defined essential businesses as those “critical to our response.” But somehow that includes selling booze to alcoholics and the depressed.
When asked why, Murphy spun a tale about saving needy state residents.
“She was on her knees profusely thanking me for keeping the liquor stores open as it relates to just the whole addiction front,” he told reporters, casting himself as the anecdote’s hero.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has imposed the strictest stay-at-home orders in the country, even banning gardening seeds and visits between private residences. But not only has she declared liquor stores essential, she’s also allowed marijuana dispensaries to continue serving both medical and recreational customers.
Somehow, Whitmer has decided that Wuhan virus concerns don’t apply to Michigan’s liquor stores and marijuana establishments as much as religious services and trips to family residences.
Free-market-leaning critics have always warned about government officials picking winners and losers, but under the stress of economic disaster and the current public-health crisis, such blatantly dictatorial decisions could be dangerous.
Thousands gathered in Lansing, Mich. this week to protest Whitmer’s draconian orders, as well as her threats to ban pharmaceutical treatments for the coronavirus that were popularized by President Donald Trump.
Whitmer is considered a Democrat “rising star,” even rumored to be on presumptive Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden’s short list of potential running mates.
Ohio, led by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, is also feeling the heat for its duplicitous stay-at-home orders while deeming liquor stores essential.
— Melissa Ackison (@MelissaAckison) April 16, 2020
In addition to being nonsensical, DeWine’s decision has caused a wholly separate public health concern.
Thousands upon thousands of Pennsylvania residents have rushed back and forth from Ohio border counties to buy liquor because Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, deemed liquor stores non-essential.
“It’s mind-boggling,” a liquor store manager in a small town five minutes from the Ohio–Pennsylvania border told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Ninety-five percent of our customers are from Pennsylvania.”
In response, DeWine recently issued another arbitrary order. Ohio border counties can now only sell liquor to people with Ohio identification.
“Any other time we would love to have visitors from Pennsylvania,” he said at a news conference this week. “But during this time, those who are coming in to buy liquor are creating a health hazard.”
Alcohol sales are booming during the Wuhan virus shutdown, with total sales up 25 percent in the week ending April 4 according to Nielsen. In fact, business is so good that sellers are scrambling for more product even as workers are presumably at increased risk of contagion.
The Wuhan virus has been a gold rush of sorts for the liquor industry, but it’s also been lucrative for state governments.
Like Ohio and Michigan, North Carolina is one of 17 alcohol “control” states. It has an Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission that keeps a tight grip on the sale, purchase, transportation, manufacture, consumption and possession of all alcoholic beverages.
North Carolina’s ABC Commission is housed within the Department of Public Safety, and that agency reports directly to Gov. Roy Cooper’s office. To many, it came as no surprise when Cooper, a Democrat, issued a statewide stay-at-home executive order on March 27 that exempted liquor stores.
The executive order has the added effect of killing off bars, restaurants, breweries and other sources of competition.
On its website, the North Carolina’s ABC Commission brags about tax revenues of more than $430 million in fiscal year 2018 from $1.1 billion in liquor sales.
This year looks to deliver much, much more to state government coffers despite the record private sector business and job losses.