In a city shut down over coronavirus, New Yorkers hit the bottle

by Laura BONILLA
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The New York State Liquor Authority confirmed a significant hike in alcohol sales, but declined to give specific figures

Spirits shaken by coronavirus? Add some ice and pour out a "quarantini."

Or two, or three -- alcohol sales are skyrocketing in New York, the epicenter of the US pandemic, where liquor stores have been deemed "essential" even as most businesses closed.

Daniel Tallman of Manhattan's Sutton Wine Shop says sales have jumped three-fold on some days, pointing to the closure of Broadway and the cancellation of the major college basketball "March Madness" tournament as turning points.

Such shutdowns were once unfathomable, and triggered a "that's kind of serious!" reaction, Tallman told AFP.

The New York State Liquor Authority confirmed a significant hike in alcohol sales, but declined to give specific figures.

"A lot of people drink wine with their meal and I think it's more of a habit," said Stefan Kalogridis, the authority's president.

Declaring liquor stores essential, he said, "was the right decision by the governor."

Evan Cuciniello, a sales associate at Ambassador Wines, said business has been "very good" -- while customers used to buy two or three bottles, "now it's a lot of cases."

"Everybody wants to drink."

- Coping mechanism -

With bars and restaurants closed, more and more people are drinking at home -- and sometimes attending virtual happy hours via online apps like FaceTime or Zoom to try and ward off loneliness.

But it's not all fun and games: one store manager, who asked to remain anonymous, said "business is booming" but people are "very stressed."

A lot of his clients work on Wall Street, he said, predicting that "when this is over, rehab clinics will make a lot of money."

On March 16, when New York closed schools, bars and restaurants and Wall Street collapsed 12.98 percent -- its worst decline since Black Monday in October 1987 -- sales at one online spirits service shot up 131 percent, said Lindsey Andrews, president of Minibar Delivery.

Addiction psychologist Andrew Washton said the current crisis has caused some of his patients to imbibe even more than before.

One has scheduled a time with friends to meet over the app Zoom, Washton said -- "to basically drink and chat for an hour to get drunk."

Another is a lawyer who had been sober for two years and had just bought a house, anticipating his annual bonus.

But news that the company would scrap bonuses this year over virus-triggered financial struggles sent him into relapse, and he was hospitalized last week in detox.

"I'm a little surprised that the liquor stores are still open, psychologist Washton said.

"But I understand that the government is afraid of revolts if it closes them!"

- City on edge -

New York state has surpassed 25,000 known cases of COVID-19, with 14,900 in densely populated New York City. At least 150 people have died statewide.

And with a peak in infections at least two weeks away, glasses likely will continue to raise.

"The whole world is anxious! We're here to relieve that anxiousness if we can," said Randy Ray, a wine consultant.

Andrews of Minibar Delivery said that while wine and spirits percentages are on the rise, beer actually has dropped slightly.

Except for one unlikely culprit: she said more people are ordering in Corona -- the Mexican beer.

The New York State Liquor Authority confirmed a significant hike in alcohol sales, but declined to give specific figures

Liquor stores are among the "essential businesses" allowed to remain open as New York battles to reign in coronavirus infections

A customer wearing a glove grabs the wine "No Curfew" in Miami

With bars and restaurants closed, more and more people are drinking at home -- and sometimes attending virtual happy hours via online apps like FaceTime or Zoom to try and ward off loneliness