With bars closed, liquor stores see holiday business uptick

Thanksgiving eve, which is normally one of the busiest nights of the year for Wisconsin bars, looks much different in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

City leaders and public health officials are pleading with the public to stay home and be smart this Thanksgiving.

A full parking lot outside your favorite bar on Thanksgiving eve is almost expected. Wednesday night, Nov. 25 at Sobelman's, the business was mostly in takeout.

A different store, though, found its goods and services are still essential.

Sobelman's in Mequon

Between the empty stools, socially-distant tables and bar as a whole, this year did not provide the normal boom in business that bar owners, like Dave Sobelman, look forward to.

"Well, there'd be more than nobody in here. Usually, it's a big party night. You have people...it's the beginning of a party weekend," Sobelman said.

Sobelman's in Mequon

Instead, the party on Wednesday was in the kitchen as Sobelman's worked to meet customers where they're at -- through takeout.

"People are going to enjoy themselves. They're going to enjoy this holiday, but they're going to enjoy it with their family, maybe friends, but at home and not in the bar-restaurant setting," said Sobelman.

Otto's Wine & Liquor

On any other Thanksgiving Eve in Wisconsin, it's tough to find a seat at a bar. Only this year, capacity isn't the problem; it's people wanting to stay home for safety.

Instead, a lot of bar businesses has moved -- to liquor stores, like Otto's Wine & Spirits.

Otto's Wine & Liquor

"Once people started leaving work, as we expected, the traffic started to increase. Three registers are going, and it's moving people in and out of the store in a quick and timely fashion," Charles Strunk, general manager of wines at Otto's, said.

Because in Wisconsin, if the holiday celebration is happening at home, families are going to prepare. It is providing some welcome business for liquor stores to close out the year.

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"It's kind of the kickoff to the holiday season rolling into, you know, Christmas and New Year's. But you know, it's a very important day for us," said Strunk.

In Mequon, Sobelman said they want to assure the public that, while they understand that some fear the virus, locally-owned bars and restaurants are doing what they can to stay safe -- and still need some business to survive.

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