Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Some Ithaca liquor stores, like Sam's Wine and Spirits, have reported an increase in sales, despite social distancing measures.

April 24, 2020

For Ithaca’s Liquor Stores, Student Exodus Yields Mixed Sales Outcomes

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The abrupt exodus of Cornell students has produced mixed results for Ithaca’s liquor stores, deemed essential businesses in New York State.

For some, business is on the rocks, while others have managed to stay above water.

Although national alcohol sales have sharply increased in the past weeks, location and clientele for Ithaca businesses largely determine how each store is faring.

West End Liquors in downtown Ithaca experienced a “huge” decline in sales following the departure of college students, said Rachel Auble, a store supervisor.

“[Students] would buy in large quantities for formals and mixers, so we’re definitely not making as much revenue as we were,” Auble said. She estimates that around a third of their business comes from college students during the academic year.

Similarly, college students make up the majority of business for Collegetown Wine and Spirits, which has “lost quite a bit of business,” according to Kody Crispell, the store’s managing partner.

“When they’re not here, it definitely hurts,” Crispell said.

For the Finger Lakes Beverage Center on West State Street, the loss of student business was also “quite a big hit for sure.”

“I don’t think we were quite ready to see them go so suddenly so soon,” said Troy Ayers, a cashier at the Beverage Center.

But Sam’s Wine and Spirits, located on South Cayuga Street, tells a different story.

As they serve mostly local residents and graduate students that have stayed in Ithaca, the downtown liquor store reports an overall increase in business, albeit “inconsistent” and with “fluctuations,” according to manager Sol Escribano.

The types of alcohol customers are gravitating towards have also changed as a result of the pandemic.

“People are definitely buying the stronger alcohol, so they can disinfect things or maybe make their own sanitizer,” Auble said, referring to high-proof drinks such as Everclear that have been “almost impossible to get” since the beginning of the lockdown.

“We’re selling mostly wine at this point,” Crispell said. “Now that people aren’t gathering and partying, we’re seeing liquor sales slow down substantially.”

Around the time Cornell closed its campus and the state issued a stay-at-home order, a few locations said they saw an initial influx of customers — which gradually “mellowed out” as time passed, according to Escribano.

“In the beginning when this all started, there was a rush in people stocking up, thinking they were going to stay home for a long time,” said Escribano.

Crispell added that there was more “substantial purchasing” before New York State ultimately made clear that liquor stores were deemed an essential business and could remain open.

“Now [customers are] back to buying single bottles,” he said.

In contrast, Auble said business at West End Liquors has gradually picked up as residents adjust to life under quarantine. On Wednesday, the store made $3,000 in sales, up from daily sales of $1,000 during the previous week.

“The more safe and secure people feel, the busier we become,” Auble said.

Escribano noticed another change in customers’ shopping habits at Sam’s Wine and Spirits:  While business used to be best during the weekend, now “it could be any day of the week.”

But common trends that have emerged for all four locations are shortened hours and earlier closing times, as traffic has become more scarce.

“We’re fortunate to be open still,” Crispell said. “Hopefully this thing levels out soon.”