March was a cruel month for Pennsylvanians as the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) shuttered for the last two weeks of the month, even as the beverage alcohol retail tier remained open in every other state. As a result of these closures, thirsty Pennsylvania consumers were forced to flock to neighboring states to stock up on wines and spirits.
But as April rolled around consumers raised a toast when the nation’s largest beverage alcohol retailer shifted gears and reopened most of its stores for online and curbside business, albeit on a severely restricted basis. Following in the footsteps of many other stores, customers can now call ahead to place orders before picking them up in a drive-thru setting in front of the stores. Orders are placed over the phone on a first-call, first-serve basis from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. at most stores Monday-Saturday. “As operations standardize, we will strive to increase order fulfillment capacity and may consider changing order and bottle limitations,” PLCB chairman Tim Holden says.
Curbside pickup and e-commerce orders are limited to six bottles apiece, and are averaging about $96 per order. In April 2019, average retail transactions were two bottles for about $28. “For e-commerce, we did 39,000 orders for $5 million in all of fiscal year 2018-19, which is less than half of what we’ve done so far just in April of 2020,” Holden says.
The reopening has already been a major success for the PLCB, especially for spirits sales. “Generally, spirits are more popular than wines, with vodka, rum, and whiskey as top sellers at many stores,” says Holden. The PLCB’s top spirits sellers after reopening are Tito’s vodka ($18 a 750-ml), Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey ($24), Smirnoff vodka ($13), Captain Morgan rum ($18), and Platinum 7X vodka ($10). Other popular spirits brands Pennsylvanians are buying include Fireball whisky ($19), Jameson Irish whiskey ($27), Absolut vodka ($20), and Maker’s Mark Bourbon ($27).
Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores experienced a huge rush on larger wine orders leading up to the store closures, and are still replenishing stock for curbside pickup. Throughout the state’s retail closure, wine was available for sale at private retailers, including essential businesses like grocery and convenience stores.
The PLCB sold approximately $6.4 million in wine and spirits during the first six days of curbside sales, and about $8.5 million in online sales since April 1. But wine and spirits retailing in the Keystone State has a long way to go before reaching cruising speed. Total retail sales of $8.3 million during the week of April 20 were down 64% from $22.8 million during a comparable week in April last year. For the calendar year thru April 24, PLCB dollar sales are down 5% to approximately $1.47 billion from $1.55 billion in 2019.
On May 6, the PLCB announced that 77 Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores would reopen with social distancing precautions in place. The reopened stores will also continue offering continue offering curbside pickup, the PLCB says.