GREEN BAY (NBC26) — New data shows that alcohol sales have increased throughout Wisconsin since the start of the pandemic. Local liquor stores say they've noticed a spike in business.
According to the Wisconsin Policy Forum, state excise tax revenues from the sale of alcohol are projected to rise nearly 17% in the 2021 fiscal year, which ended June 30. This increase would be the biggest percentage increase the state has seen since 1972.
Ben Smits, the owner of Badger Liquor Store in Green Bay, says he first began to notice an uptick in business back in 2020.
"The big thing that happened was St. Patrick's Day 2020, that's when the governor shut all the bars down at 5 o'clock and we just got swarmed," Smits said.
He says sales began to skyrocket the following month and business has only continued to increase ever since.
Smits believes more people may be buying alcohol because they're opting to drink at home rather than going out to bars in the midst of the pandemic. He says even times where his store would normally be slow have become unusually busy in the past year.
"Even your weekdays too, it's just gone way up," Smits said. "People maybe got tired of the bar scene and wanted to make a change but it just keeps going up and up."
Sarah Rivera, a manager at Neo's Discount Tobacco and Liquors, says her store has also seen an increase in sales over the past year. She estimates sales have increased about 25% in the past twelve months. Like Smits, she's also noticed that normally slow times have now started to become busy.
"Sometimes 8 o'clock people are already waiting outside," Rivera said. "Then 10, 11 o'clock it just starts getting busier and goes until 7, 8, 9 o'clock."
It may not only be liquor stores that are accounting for the rising alcohol sales, but grocery stores as well. Steven Deller, a professor of agriculture and applied economics at UW Madison, says grocery stores have also seen a boom in business since the start of the pandemic.
"Sale in grocery stores has just spiked and has remained much higher than pre-COVID," Deller said. "A lot of people were used to going out to eat and essentially had to re-stock their kitchens."
Just like people began to stock up on food when lockdowns first began, he attributes much of the increase in alcohol sales to panic-buying caused by the pandemic.
"There was about a two week period where grocery store sales just spiked. Then they came back down but they never returned to pre-pandemic levels," Deller said. "I think we might be seeing a little bit of that with alcohol. They're consuming more at home and they're drinking a little bit more."