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This past 4/20, Jamaica Joel’s owner and CEO Travis Higbee placed buckets in front of the dispensary, spreading them 6 feet apart and forming a line about 50 yards long, to maintain social distancing for curbside deliveries. (Courtesy of Jamaica Joel's)

The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated small businesses en masse, forcing a large portion of them to lay off employees and seek creative ways to get by. Still, liquor stores and dispensaries are among the establishments in Eugene that have managed to stay busy or remain largely intact.

Though local liquor stores aren’t supplying the bars and restaurants that they normally do, licensed liquor stores in Oregon saw record sales in March after selling almost $66 million in distilled spirits, nearly a 20% sales increase from the same month last year, according to an April 14 news release from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

OLCC-licensed liquor stores also earned over $147,359,000 between March 1 and May 11 this year, almost a 15% increase from the same period in 2019, according to OLCC data shared with the Emerald. Statewide sales from May 1 to May 11 were more than $2,352,000 higher than last year at a nearly 11% increase.

Northside Liquor’s customer foot traffic has not changed significantly, owner Bill Minihan said, and the biggest surprise has been the larger quantities in which people are buying items. “Our walk-up business has actually generated more volume than anticipated,” Minihan said.

The liquor sale portion of Bailey Hill Market Liquor and Deli “has been very, very busy,” owner Mani Khinda said.

The store implemented curbside delivery, Khinda said, with staff taking orders and credit card information over the phone, boxing the liquor and checking both the cards and photo IDs upon customers’ arrival. 

The OLCC temporarily approved curbside delivery of liquor within 100 feet of the licensed premises and of marijuana within 150 feet, according to news releases from mid-March.

 

“We are looking to help our licensees – economically helping them get every dollar they can, but also administratively by giving them the tools they need,” OLCC Executive Director Steve Marks said of the temporary action for alcohol in a March 19 news release.

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Regarding marijuana, the OLCC made the change after retailers raised concerns about maintaining social distancing, keeping employees and customers safe and preserving their business, OLCC spokesperson Mark Pettinger said.

This past March, licensed marijuana retailers statewide earned more than $84,850,000, nearly a 37% increase compared to the same month last year. In April, sales were over $89,524,000, almost 45% higher than that month in 2019, according to OLCC data shared with the Emerald.

Delivery orders for Jamaica Joel’s have doubled since the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting owner and CEO Travis Higbee to hire more employees to ensure deliveries took under an hour.

On 4/20, Higbee placed orange buckets 6 feet apart to form a line about 50 yards long for curbside delivery. The dispensary had 96 curbside and delivery orders that day — 150 fewer than in 2019 — and still earned more money than it did last year, he said. The night before, he decided to have customers place delivery and pickup orders online. “My employees were like, ‘We've never done this,’ and I'm like, ‘We've never done 4/20 in a pandemic, but we're gonna be just fine.’”

“The people need our products, and so I didn't expect sales to go up or down,” he said. “I just knew we had to be there to service our customers.”

Although Moss Crossing’s number of customers has stayed the same or dropped slightly, its average sales per transaction have been higher, co-founder and CEO Heidi Fikstad said. It saw about a 50% increase in sales during the weekend after Gov. Kate Brown issued updated mitigation measures on March 12 banning gatherings of over 250 people and recommending that businesses implement social distancing measures to keep individuals at least 3 feet apart, Fikstad said.

Despite switching to pickup and delivery only and requiring that customers order online or by phone, it still had the highest-grossing 4/20 in its history this year, she said. “We've definitely seen the same trends as the rest of the industry, even with our different model,” she said.

“I honestly expected business to be slower than normal,” Fikstad said. “I figured people would be afraid to leave their homes afraid to get delivery, and then also with our limited hours and online ordering only, I definitely thought that we were going to see some lost business, but that hasn't appeared to be the case.”