Why coronavirus shelter-in-place orders were considered ‘essential’ for liquor stores

the Stay-at-home ordinances that went into effect in Austin To slow the spread of the coronavirus early Wednesday, most businesses are required to close their physical locations by April 13, with some exceptions for those deemed essential services.

This list of essential services includes pharmacies, grocery stores, gas stations — and liquor stores. Why Liquor Stores?

“I was wondering the same thing,” said Rick Garza, who picked up white wine and cognac from Spec in Sunset Valley on Wednesday. “Maybe because everyone at home is bored and wants to drink.”

Austin City spokesman David Green said access to non-liquor products played a role in the decision to keep liquor stores open.

“Liquor stores often also stock groceries and other supplies, so we’ve left them open so those items are still available,” he said.

Spec’s has a meat and cheese deli and aisles with grocery items like soup, crackers, and pasta. Water and soft drinks are also available.

Restaurants to remain open – the Gov. Greg Abbott temporarily allowed to sell alcohol with takeout orders to improve their bottom line during the outbreak – are also relying on liquor stores for their supply of alcohol.

David Jabour, co-owner of Austin-based Twin Liquors, said it’s important people have access to their favorite beverages during this difficult time.

“Withholding alcohol from a resident of our community would be depriving them of one of the few things that they can continue to enjoy in the comforts of their own home because we have local shelters in all of our communities,” he said.

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The orders by Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt are similar to those in Dallas County that was the first in Texas to call for local protection. Dallas is also allowing liquor stores to remain open.

A staffer for Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said the county found that Texans who like liquor would be in a tough spot if liquor stores were closed because supermarkets in the state could only sell beer and wine. In addition, the staffer told the American-Statesman, there are concerns that people with alcohol addiction would suffer medical emergencies if they were cut off from alcohol and could end up occupying hospital spaces that could be used for COVID-19 patients.

Liquor stores aren’t specifically listed as essential services in the Williamson County stay-at-home order that went into effect Wednesday, but they could be considered businesses that sell groceries and are allowed to stay open. County officials did not respond to an email asking whether liquor stores would remain open.

The stay-at-home orders in the Austin area leave room for many other businesses that are deemed essential and remain open.

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A mattress company store near the Specs was open Wednesday under an exemption for businesses maintaining “essential operations of homes”. A nearby Best Buy store was reduced to curbside pickup but was open.

Other businesses have had to close their doors due to local and state orders, including hair salons, gyms and hemp stores. Some people were Contact hemp stores that sell cannabidiol productssay they help calm their nerves at a time of heightened anxiety.

“I’m curious as to why Austin singled out CBD retailers as non-essential while Dallas and other cities didn’t use the same wording,” said Leah Lakstins, founder of Austin Hemp Tours. “These products will continue to be available in large stores where vulnerable people are at greater risk than the boutiques they currently visit. Most stores are the size of a liquor store and just as easy to clean.”

The state guidance on defining essential workers is not specific to liquor stores. However, they appear to be covered as a retail store that “sells beverage products.”

Austin Shaker co-owner Kirstyn Litchfield said sales at both of her stores have been booming since the health crisis hit Austin this month and forced residents into their homes. The exception, she said, is appropriate because “alcohol offers a little escape from reality.”

Spec buyer Glenn Beaver had his own take on why liquor stores are still open during a public health crisis.

“Everclear is a disinfectant,” he said.

American Statesman reporter Arianna Auber contributed to this story.

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Reporting on the outbreak of the coronavirus

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