As stocks fell in ’08, the state’s liquor sales soared

Jenna Staul

Ohioans bought more liquor than ever before

Liquor sales in Ohio rose to a record high in 2008, up nearly 5 percent from the previous year despite a slumping economy.

Despite the current recession, sales for spirituous liquor containing more than 21 percent alcohol were up $32.6 million from sales in 2007. Liquor gallonage sales also increased by 2.64 percent to 10.5 million gallons purchased, according to the Ohio Department of Commerce Division of Liquor Control.

“It’s mostly because of an increase in prices, which is a continuation of a trend,” said Matt Mullins, Division of Liquor Control spokesman, adding that spirituous liquor sales numbers have been steadily increasing since the mid 90s.

“It’s also the consumption of premium liquors. Seven of our top ten selling liquors are premiums.”

What may serve as an indication of the waning economy, Mullins said, is the drop in wholesale liquor purchases, or sales to permit-holders such as restaurants and bars.

“Well, there’s wholesale versus retail,” Mullins said. “Retail sales have been up for quite a while, but wholesale is down. It means people are buying and returning home. They aren’t going out, and that may be a sign of the poor economy.”

Darby Norris, manager of TLC Wine and Liquor in Kent, which primarily sells liquor wholesale, said his sales were unexpectedly up last year at about $3.5 million.

“Liquor (sales) doesn’t drop in a recession,” Norris said. “If anything, it makes people drink more.”

Norris said despite economic turmoil, his customers are still buying liquor – albeit cheaper liquor as they have in the past.

“It’s just the cheaper vodkas and rums that are selling,” Norris said. “The economy really has no effect on us. With being close to a university, the only time it gets slow is when the kids go home for spring break or Christmas break.”

Giant Eagle in Ravenna also experienced an upward trend in liquor sales. The supermarket, which services both retail and wholesale liquor, watched grocery sales drop slightly as liquor sales held strong, said Ken Messner, the store’s liquor department manager.

“Groceries are down just a little bit,” Messner said, adding that liquor is largely a recession-proof product. “While they’re struggling to hit their numbers, my department is up.”

Mullins said his department has not made formal projections for liquor sales in 2009.

“But we don’t project liquor sales will drop in the coming year,” he said.

Contact public affairs reporter Jenna Staul at [email protected].