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Retail Wine Stores – On the Front Line?

No one would pretend that package store employees are dealing with the same risks as Police, Firefighters, or Medical Personnel. But like food-market workers, package store workers are on some sort of front line. Unlike grocery employees, these workers are not necessarily being recognized and protected in their positions.

At Glenville Wine & Spirits, no customers are allowed inside the store. Phone-in curbside service and delivery service, are the only way customers may order. The door is barricaded by the store’s famous rusty tin knight so that customers do not saunter in. Cash purchases are not allowed. Credit cards are handled by their edges.

Other stores are allowing customers in. Their only prophylactic measure is to use hand-sanitizer and alcohol, to rub down surfaces, and to practice 6-foot distancing whenever possible. These stores also offer delivery and curbside service. They handle cash, and do not use gloves or masks.

A customer from New Britain, visiting a local store, reported signs outside the door – in line with many Greenwich stores’ unwritten policies – stating that the store was not accepting cash or bottle returns anymore. This store encouraged customers to stock up, since they anticipated closing soon. On the down side, the store had a fan on the counter blowing air into customers’ faces. Two stores in Farmington and West Hartford, on the other hand, were “business as usual.” No employee in the 3 stores was wearing gloves or masks.

In other parts of the country, customers are feeling the same need for liquid courage. Purveyors are also experiencing increased sales.

In Minneapolis, a customer reports “stocking up” because he and his friends are “living in a casino, for the most part!” He reports no cash transactions, carts full of liquor, and a long line in the morning. One could roam the store, but signs were up asking everyone to stay 6 feet from one another. Employees and ownership were “jovial” because they were so busy.

A Philadelphia customer, practicing social distancing at his second home on the New Jersey shore, reported clerks at the local package store wearing masks. Otherwise, it was “business as usual.”

More widely, Distributors of wine, spirits and beer have pulled their Sales Representatives from routes. Orders are being processed exclusively through each Wholesaler’s central office. Distributors’ Representatives are not earning any salary while on hiatus. In New York, at least one Distributor has laid off all 300 of its Sales Reps.

Breweries have closed their tap rooms, but are offering curbside pickup and product delivery. City Steam Brewery, in Hartford, even offers catering services, though it is not clear whether catering is limited to delivery, or includes service on site.

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