Update 8:56 PM on 3/18/2020: We have now learned that the Mississippi Department of Revenue has made a similar order, allowing curbside service as well as delivery. Mississippi, however, does not have any restrictions on the amount that can be sold.
Today, the ABC Board issued an emergency rule to allow all on- and off-premise licensees to provide curbside pickup service. This is designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to allow businesses to continue some operations during these difficult times. We appreciate the ABC being proactive on supporting business and protecting public health.
Unfortunately, the rule comes with unnecessary restrictions. Curbside sales under the emergency rule are limited to no more than one 750 mL bottle of wine, one 750 mL bottle of liquor, or one six pack of beer per customer. This is a misguided restriction that has no public health and safety justification.
Retail businesses, including those that focus on alcoholic beverages, are in a crisis. Thousands of these small businesses are struggling to find revenue options to survive and keep their people employed. Thousands of workers across the state have likely lost their incomes already. Any restriction that does not protect public health and safety should have a high standard before being adopted.
1. These restrictions may encourage less social distancing
One of the stated purposes for the emergency rule is to prevent the spread of CVOID-19 by limiting contact between persons. However, these sales restrictions are only applied to curbside sales. Patrons may enter the premises and buy as much alcohol as they want.
This encourages two behaviors that the rule is designed to prevent.
- It gives people an incentive to enter the premises. If they wait in their car, they are limited. If they walk in, they are not limited.
- It gives people an incentive to go out more frequently. If they do stay in the car, they are being encouraged to go out more frequently in order to re-stock.
People are being encourage to not horde, but to stock up for up to two weeks at a time in order to reduce their exposure. While curbside pickup is a great way to reduce exposure, the restrictions hamstring those efforts.
2. Big box retailers like Wal-Mart do not have similar restrictions on their curbside service
While this emergency rule extends curbside services to all on- and off-premise licensees, it is already allowed for retailers with an online grocery pickup program under existing ABC Rules and Regs in 20-X-6-.01(15). This provision was created in 2018 to allow big box stores like Wal-Mart to extend their curbside pickup services to include alcoholic beverages.
However, these big box stores do not have any restrictions on the amount of purchase. So as of today, you can get curbside pickup of alcohol from Wal-Mart with no restrictions. But if you go to your family-owned restaurant, brewery, distillery, beer store, or craft beer bar, they can only sell you one six pack, one bottle of wine, or one bottle of liquor. There is no reason to give a leg-up to large business over small, local operations.
3. Now is not the time for unnecessary sales restrictions on small, local businesses
Employers are exhausting their cash reserves to keep their people working. While options such as emergency disaster loans and tax deferments are welcome, the major problem for our small businesses is the loss of revenue. While this emergency rule is a move in the right direction, it falls short of a true lifeline.
We ask the ABC to amend this emergency rule to remove these restrictions. It would be in the interest of public health, it would be fair to small and local businesses, and it would provide a little help to local businesses that need the support.