Business is booming for one segment of the economy in Kansas during the coronavirus pandemic: liquor stores. 

At the same time, the increased use of the products found in those stores has not necessarily benefitted people.

The Wichita Eagle reported that tax collections on liquor sales at stores are up 17.9 percent from July to September compared to last year, according to data from the Kansas Department of Revenue.

Laura Buterbaugh, owner of Bing Bros. liquor store in Winfield, said the loss of sales from the Walnut Valley Festival’s being canceled was more than offset by the increase in liquor sales from the start of the pandemic. 

From the beginning, when people were quarantined and restaurants and bars were closed, the store’s business started to pick up, she said. And while the store did not reap any benefit from the bluegrass festival, the increased overall sales have kept it at an income level about equal to its level in October 2019.

At JC’s Liquor Store, in Arkansas City, employee Mikie Contreras said that at the start of the pandemic, the store was very busy and continued that way for quite a while. In fact, Contreras said, business days have varied between “a decent day” and a “wonderful day” even now.

She, like Buterbaugh, said the customers bought both liquor and beer, whatever brands were available, since distributors ran out of some products, like imported beer. “If we couldn’t get one product, sales went up in another department,” Contreras said. 

It’s not only Kansas that has seen the boom in business. The data organization Nielsen says liquor sales at stores are up 22.7 percent nationwide from March 1 through mid-September compared with the same time last year. The surge in alcohol sales comes as bars and restaurants have taken a severe hit due to the pandemic.

“So instead of going to the bar and buying their drink, they’re going to the liquor store and taking it home with them,” said Kansas Department of Revenue Director of Taxation Steve Stotts.

How much that increase in liquor purchase has affected people is not automatically clear, said Greg Hemmen, of Four County Mental Health. “We have seen an increase in anxiety and depression since the beginning of the pandemic,” Hemen said, but he did not have statistics available on relapses brought on by the stresses of the pandemic heightened by the increased use of alcohol.

“Don’t forget the liquor stores were listed as an essential business,” said psychologist Pam White, who has a private practice in Winfield.

In her own practice, White said she has not seen any increase in problems due to alcoholic consumption during the pandemic. She did say, however, that in conversation with a friend practicing in Washington, they discussed the rise in divorces and separations. “Between the alcohol and the confinement and the loss of work, some people feel like they are losing their purpose,” White said. 

“It is a public health problem,” she said.

One benefit of the pandemic, White said, is that though some people are suffering from the stress of the isolation, others have focused on how important family is and are making every effort to keep in touch even if they are far away. That has gone a long way to keeping people’s spirits up, she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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