2020 | Government

Montgomery County alcohol sales up from last fiscal year through four months

County expects people to buy in bulk for holidays


Alcohol sales in Montgomery County through four months of the fiscal year were slightly ahead of a year ago, according to the county’s Alcohol Beverage Services department (ABS).

ABS generated $100.3 million in sales from July through October. That is slightly above the $96.8 million during the same four months of 2019, according to the department.

The numbers include combined retail and wholesale revenue, department spokeswoman Melissa Davis wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat last week. They are not subject to a “formal audit process,” she wrote. The county’s fiscal year runs July 1 to June 30.

The current period is considered the “holiday rush,” ABS Division Chief of Retail Operations Kent Massie told Bethesda Beat last week. The annual period starts around mid-November in preparation for Thanksgiving, and extends through the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, he said.

“It’s a huge part of what we do. It’s about one-sixth of our sales volume for the year in a six-week crunch,” he said. “And so you get a lot more customers in the stores. The stores are crowded. All the things we don’t want while COVID is going on.”

Massie said that during the holiday period last year, there were roughly 570,000 transactions, and about $25 million in sales generated at the department’s 25 retail stores. A 26th store was added this year in Poolesville.

This year, Massie expects fewer individual purchases, but the retail sales revenue will likely stay the same or exceed that of last year, he said, because people are buying in bulk to minimize trips to the store.

“People are spending more each visit, but they’re visiting a lot less,” he said.

That trend, Massie said, has been consistent since the beginning of the pandemic. A customer’s average ticket at a retail store, he said, is up 2% from a year ago.

Bethesda Beat reported on March 18 that ABS retail sales had jumped 46% in eight days, which encompassed the period in which Gov. Larry Hogan ordered that bars and restaurants close across the state for sit-down service.

At the beginning of the pandemic, “the restaurants weren’t open and there weren’t as many options for people to do things out and about, so people were buying things to store at home instead,” Massie said last week.

With COVID-19 cases spiking again this month, the county has reduced indoor capacity for many businesses to 25%, including at restaurants, bars and retail establishments.

ABS’s 26 retail stores have signs stating the capacity limit, which Massie said is between 10 and 20, depending on the store. Customers will need to wait in a socially distanced line outside if the store is full, he said.

Additionally, to reduce crowding, Massie said, ABS employees have added extra registers in stores, and installed plexiglass barriers around them. He said customers are encouraged to avoid the busiest times of day.

“Try to shop before 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon,” he said. “I know not everyone can do that, but the people that can, if they make the conscious decision to do that, that’s when we don’t have lines.”

As an alternative, Massie said, customers can call in their orders, provide their credit card information and pick them up curbside on a limited basis at the Potomac, Westview, Kingsview, Muddy Branch and Montrose stores.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com