Pandemic impacts drinking behavior and sales in Oregon and Washington
OLCC reports liquor sales are up in Oregon during COVID-19 but restaurants and bars are suffering big losses. A WSU study looks at changes in drinking behavior.
A study from Washington State University researchers shows one in four adults changed their alcohol use at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The study, recently published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, surveyed more than 900 twin pairs from the Washington State Twin Registry from March 26 - April 5, 2020. Washington issued stay-at-home orders on March 23.
Because twins share more genetics, a study like this could more accurately determine if behavior changes were consistent genetically or caused by outside factors.
About 14% of survey respondents said they drank more alcohol than the week before and reported higher levels of stress and anxiety than those who did not drink and those whose use stayed the same.
“We expected that down the road people might turn to alcohol after the stay-at-home orders were issued," said Ally Avery, lead author of the study. "It shows the need to make sure there is more mental health support since it had an impact on people right away.”
However, the study also showed the 11% of people who decreased their drinking also had higher levels of stress and anxiety.
The study did not ask about reasons for a change in behavior or mood, but Avery said one possibility is these were social drinkers who were missing out on after-work happy hours and other occasions with friends.
Avery said the link between the pandemic, alcohol use, and stress is concerning. Researchers will continue to survey the group to follow the long-term impact.
Alcohol Demand: How the pandemic is changing the PNW beverage industry
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) reported individual sales of alcohol are generally up during COVID-19.
"We've been running the business through all [of] COVID," said Jeff Ball, owner of 11th Avenue Liquor on Hawthorne in Southeast Portland.
Bars and restaurants shutting down for pandemic-related concerns took a big chunk of alcohol sales with them.
"And now we're running at about 30% of what that business was before COVID," explained Ball.
However, even as restaurants and bars slowly regain some capacity, neighborhood customers are the ones keeping businesses like Ball's alive.
He said the customer base is up between 42-50%. They're buying more beer, wine, cigars, tequila, vermouth, and cocktail ingredients than before the pandemic.
"Because people are making cocktails at home," Ball said.
Ball said individual customers have nearly made up for the losses of his restaurant and bar clients, but other stores are struggling more.
Todd Holden has owned Portland Central Liquor in Downtown for about eight years. He relies most on supplying Downtown bars and restaurants with alcohol. Since the shutdown started, his business is down about 65%.
"I had to eliminate seven positions and I reduced hours by 20%," Holden told KGW. "I can't do much more of this. I'll be out of money soon."
Holden explained liquor stores in Oregon sell alcohol on behalf of OLCC, which then gives stores a commission. In 2019, his average commission was 7.12%. He expressed hope OLCC will raise that number during difficult times like this.
The OLCC is continuing to work on other adjustments. It has collaborated with grocery stores to approve alcohol sales during early shopping hours for vulnerable customers. It also approved new rules for curbside pickup at liquor stores. Delivery is another option being expanded.
"We've had delivery in Oregon since about 1933 with the Liquor Control Act," OLCC spokesperson Bryant Haley said. "And it's not been as popular until now."
While most liquor stores are seeing an increase in overall sales, Haley said restaurants and bars are hurting most.
The Brewer's Guild reported to OLCC draft sales are down about 30%.
To help mitigate social distancing concerns and falling revenue, some restaurants and bars are approved for parklet seating outdoors.
Haley explained many venues, however, are limited in what they can do safely.
"It's difficult to see that when you have such a personal connection to it," Haley said.
For Jeff Ball at 11th Avenue Liquor, he said his business's success is interconnected with these restaurants and bars, expressing hope they can get more help to adapt to shifting demand.
"We really want to see them make it through this very difficult time," Ball said.