On St. Patrick’s day last week, Governor Tony Evers ordered all bars to close. But, you could still find alcohol at grocery stores, liquor stores, and wine shops.
This morning, another new directive from Governor Tony Evers to stay “safer at home” took effect. This order closed all nonessential businesses in the state. Of those operations considered essential are healthcare, government, food take-out and delivery, and media operations.
Also essential? Alcohol sales.
“We need folks to take this safer at home order I signed today seriously. Folks do not need special permission to leave their homes. You can still go outdoors, walk your dog, go to the doctor, go to the pharmacist, and get other supplies, groceries, and get all the supplies you need,” said Evers after signing the order.
The order took effect at 8am this morning, and it says if you already have a license to sell pre packaged alcohol, you can continue.
Wisconsin isn’t the only state where the sales of liquor is now classified as essential business. States with similar rules include Illinois, Washington, and New York.
Retailers in Wisconsin are expected to maintain social distancing practices — that’s six feet of distance — as often as possible.
Andrea Hillsey is the owner of Square Wine. She says she suspected her business would be allowed to stay open under the new rule.
“If you close the liquor stores, you’d have even more people going to the grocery story just to buy those things,” Hillsey says.
Square Wine is located across from the capitol, and while Hillsey says she’s trying to have less physical contact with customers, business has picked up.
“It’s been kind of crazy. And I think we are getting a lot of folks who would go out to our favorite restaurants and bars [that] are being forced to drink at home. As much as it pains me, I think we are benefitting from that,” Hillsey adds.
The Tavern League of Wisconsin is a group that provides legal information and educational services to bars. It also lobbies for the industry at the capitol.
Executive Director Pete Madland says the closing of bars to protect public health has been devastating to the industry.
“Is there an aid out there? Is there any financial help, support for these people? Obviously they didn’t cause this problem, they didn’t ask for the problem,” Madland says. “I think another concern is employees getting compensation. I think the government is trying to address those things now. The main concern is [whether or not they will] survive the shut down, and hopefully most of our people will.”
But Madland says that bars can still sell alcohol.
“Bars can also participate, because bars, under the way they are licensed, can sell packaged goods,” Madland says. “So, if a bar wants to stay open to sell a six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine or bottle of liquor, they can do so. They are not allowed to sell by the drink or in any open container. They can only sell original sealed containers to go.”
Jessica Jones is the head brewer at Giant Jones, a near east side brewery she owns with her wife. Jones says 80 percent of their sales come from their tasting room, which is typically open Thursday through Saturday. For now, it’s closed.
Jones is hopeful that she will be able to brew again, but without the revenue from the tasting room, she worries about gathering supplies.
“The way out of this, is going to be for folks to choose their local producers. Whether that’s farmers, or restaurants, or textiles, or beer, or spirits or whatever. The only way we are going to continue to have those things is if people are choosing to support their local producers, and people are really doing that,” Jones says.
Distribution continues for Giant Jones. Jones says they self-distribute to locate retailers and have hosted a few “case sales” out of their building, which is the old Greyhound station. She says they limited contact as much as possible and sanitized often.
Governor Evers’s order requires folks to stay home unless they are providing care, work at a swath of businesses considered essential, or need to get essential supplies like groceries, sanitary supplies…or alcohol .
The order is slated to last until Friday, April 24, unless there is another order issued.