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Tennessee Deemed Alcohol ‘Essential', But That Hasn’t Made The Pandemic Easy


Liquor stores and breweries have been considered essential business in Tennessee throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

But just because they have remained operational, it doesn’t mean they are doing well. They have had to change how they do business in order to survive.

In late February, Southern Grist Brewing Company celebrated its anniversary of making some of the most experimental beer in the market.

Kevin Antoon, the founder, remembered the magnitude of the event. He said it’s unlikely to be repeated anytime soon.

“We had 2,000 people in the same building, shoulder-to-shoulder, sold out crowd drinking beer, sharing glasses,” Antoon told WPLN News. “That will not happen.”

The coronavirus pandemic has closed taprooms across the state.That means significant losses for businesses like Antoon’s.

“Especially for Southern Grist — we make about 85% of our revenues through our taprooms,” Antoon said. “We don’t distribute widely. We are not in Kroger.”

Other breweries across the state are experiencing similar hardships.

Sharon Michie, the executive director of the Tennessee Craft Brewers Guild, surveyed breweries across the state.

“Some breweries have reported a 60 percent drop in revenue and this is just within the last month,” Michie said.

Others are reporting decreases of up to 90 percent. Michie called it “devastating.”

Anecdotally, liquor stores are also experiencing loses. The magnitude of the impact varies from location to location, said Joe Hobbs, the president of the Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association. Those in tourist areas — like his liquor store — are being hit the hardest.

“Eighty percent of my clients are tourists — I’m right across the street from the Gaylord Hotel,” Hobbs said. “Needless to say, my business is down.”

So, the industry has had to adapt. As well as the job descriptions of the employees.

Bartenders have become drivers. Now, many breweries are offering delivery and curbside pickup.

Before the pandemic, that was illegal. But for the last few weeks, that has been allowed and encouraged.

“If we didn’t have deliveries, we wouldn’t be in business right now,” Antoon, with Southern Grist, said.

He said he’d like these measures to stay in place at least until Gov. Bill Lee says all businesses can reopen as normal. But there are layers of regulations and it’s unclear that would happen.

Meanwhile, breweries are also thinking about what they need for a safe reopening. Many are worried about the lack of personal protective equipment for employees.

This pandemic has clearly changed how they do business from now on.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.
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