Edmonton liquor and cannabis stores see surge in business during COVID-19 pandemic

As some businesses like bars and movie theatres temporarily shut their doors due to the coronavirus pandemic, some liquor and cannabis stores are seeing a spike in business.

Provinces like Ontario and Quebec have shut down many non-essential services to counter the spread of coronavirus. But liquor and cannabis stores there remain open. And in Alberta no indication has been given by Alberta Liquor Gaming and Cannabis that it will encourage stores to shut down.

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, supported the decision to keep shops in Ontario open, arguing that many people have significant dependence issues with respect to alcohol, and cutting off the supply would lead to significant health consequences.

Steven Ha, vice-president for Green Mountain Cannabis in Edmonton, said his business is arguably an essential service because some customers use the products for medicinal reasons.

“For us here, it’s those guys we’re worried about the most,” Ha said. “There are still going to be recreational users who come by and that’s fine and dandy, but it’s the ones that need it medically that we’re worried about.”

Green Mountain’s sales have risen nearly 50 per cent from in the last week, Ha said.

The coronavirus pandemic has also shifted business models for many of the stores.

Edmonton-based craft beer brewer Odd Company moved to a full delivery and takeout business model after the province limited businesses to 50 people or 50 per cent of capacity.

Brett Loree, one of the partners running Odd Company, said support for the idea since has been encouraging and they’ve made close to 100 deliveries.

“People have been really pumped to see us show up. We feel like little Santa Clauses running around delivering beer,” Loree said.

The brewery has been working to do what it can to maintain sales and ensure it doesn’t have to lay off employees. They’ve made their own hand sanitizer to keep their deliveries clean and hygienic, and moved up bottled beer releases even though they don’t have labels to print on those bottles yet.

Instead, Loree said, staff members are handwriting hundreds of labels to add a personal touch.

The transition into new business models during the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t been smooth for everyone.

Colour de Vino, a liquor store in Edmonton’s Mill Creek neighbourhood, said a rumour went around that its store would stop delivering alcohol, leading to two days of customers buying as much as they could to hoard alcohol.

“It created sort of a fear,” said Juanita Roos, Colour de Vino co-owner. “People that would normally buy one bottle every three weeks, they’re buying like three cases.”

Ross said many customers are coming less often but buying enough liquor to last a few weeks. In one case, a customer came and bought all of their bottles of Everclear.

What’s made the move to a delivery and pickup model easier, Roos said, is that this small community-based store knows many of its customers. Roos said they take orders over the phone and sometimes through Facetime, and can often recognize customers through the window when they come to pick up their orders.

“We’re trying to keep it so people can still go for a walk and walk to see us,” Roos said.

“They just can’t come in. We just want to reduce that and keep our staff safe and our families safe and them.”

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