Thirsty: Mecklenburg liquor sales surge 29%

Plus: Top items shoppers are stockpiling; A closer look at new state data; Cadwalader cuts lawyer pay; Ledger unveils new line of 'essential' garb for you (and your dog)

Busy times at ABC stores as residents stock at-home bars; ‘Give me two, give me three, give me a half-gallon’

With nowhere to get a stiff drink, Mecklenburg County residents streamed into local ABC stores in March, driving up sales by 29% compared with a year ago, the head of the county’s ABC board told The Ledger on Wednesday.

CEO Jason Hughes said people started stockpiling liquor early in the month, on fears that ABC stores might close because of the coronavirus pandemic. The stores are on reduced hours but have no plans to close, and they’re considered an “essential business” under county and state “stay at home” orders. An internet rumor circulated Wednesday that Gov. Roy Cooper plans to close ABC stores on Friday, but it was apparently just an April Fools’ joke, Hughes said.

Make it a double: ABC stores have also seen more customers switch to larger sizes of liquor bottles, like half-gallons. The ABC board had to order more shipments of bigger bottles of booze to accommodate consumer demand.

“I’m sure their mindset is, ‘If I had to wait in line to get this, I’ll go ahead and get the largest size, and I won’t have to come back for a while,’” Hughes said. “If someone comes in to get a bottle of whatever, they’ll say, ‘Give me two, give me three, give me a half-gallon.’”

The surge in retail liquor sales — the biggest March in Mecklenburg ABC history — offset a huge decline in the ABC board’s sales to bars and restaurants, which plunged 48% compared with March 2019. That sounds about right, given that they were closed about half the month.

Home isolation is even spurring cocktail innovation, with many different ways to make what people are calling “quarantinis.”

Hughes says he thinks ABC retail sales will stabilize in April, as people become convinced that liquor stores are not going to close. That aligns with what some other retailers are seeing nationally. The number of shoppers at Walmart, Costco and Target fell last week for the first time since concern about the pandemic emerged toward the end of February.

Pandemic spending habits

Meanwhile, a new report is providing some insights into what Americans are stockpiling. The report, by Information Resources Inc., examines retail sales for the second week of March compared with the same week in 2019.

Sales of paper products more than tripled, and frozen and packaged food nearly doubled. Alcohol sales increased nearly 30% — about the same figure as Mecklenburg’s ABC sales for the month.

Some of the data:

Source: Information Resources Inc. Consumer Spending Tracker, March 26, 2020

The report also compares U.S. shopping habits to those of other countries — and finds some uniquely American differences.

While other countries sensibly stocked up on gloves, bath soaps and personal wash products, the sub-category with the biggest growth in the U.S. was … frozen cookie dough, up 570% compared with a year earlier:

Other interesting growth categories:

  • Toilet tissue, +236%

  • Frozen pizzas, +117%

  • Disposable diapers, +94%

  • Fresh eggs, +71%

  • Potato chips, +33%

Is North Carolina’s curve flattening?

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services this week started releasing new batches of data that are providing a much more complete picture of coronavirus cases in the state. We shared some of those yesterday, which showed that hospitals have more than 7,000 empty beds and 2,000 available ventilators.

But there’s another piece of data worth examining in this batch, too, having to do with the number of new confirmed coronavirus cases being added every day.

Local media have largely been presenting each day’s increase in the raw number of cases as huge, frightening news — as though we didn’t know that the total number of cases is rising.

However, the more instructive way to look at the numbers is to examine the number of cases added each day. If the number of new cases each day continues to rise, then we’re in trouble, right? What we want is for those numbers to flatten and then fall.

Is that already happening?

Check out this graph from the state. It shows the number of new cases added each day, by the date the coronavirus test was administered:

Source: N.C. Department of Health and Human Services

The area on the right, shaded in gray, indicates that those are preliminary numbers, since not all the tests in the last week or so have come back. But if you look at that previous week, you’ll see that the numbers for March 18-20 are flat. They’re not increasing — even though the number of tests has been increasing. (It also appears that fewer tests are administered on the weekends, as March 14-15 and March 21-22 have unusually low numbers.)

Hospitalizations rising: On the other hand, the number of hospitalizations continues to increase statewide. That number was at 204 on Wednesday. That number needs to stabilize, too. It’s probably even more important than the number of cases, since the vast majority of people who test positive will experience only minor symptoms.

In the next few days, it will be interesting to see how the final numbers of cases land for the week of March 23 — which was the week when most N.C. metro areas issued “stay at home” orders. Will they hover around the 140-145 range? Or will they keep going higher?

A New York Times article this week reported that data seems to show that social distancing is working to slow the spread of the virus. We should have an idea pretty soon about how that’s playing out in Charlotte and around the state.

Future uncertain: At a news conference in Raleigh on Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said the state is working with researchers from universities and private companies to develop predictions of what will happen.

“I want to caution that modeling is not a crystal ball,” she said. “It’s only as good as the data we have at the moment and as good as the assumptions that any one of those models makes. We don’t have the perfect data. We don’t have the perfect assumptions. And we’re not going to know with precision how this is going to play out.”

Today’s supporting sponsors are T.R. Lawing Realty:

… and StretchLab:

Getting tight while working at home? Tune into our daily at-home stretch routine on Facebook live — check online for times. And follow our studios on Instagram and Facebook to learn multiple DIY stretches you and your family can do while in the midst of social distancing:  StretchLab SouthPark & StretchLab Dilworth

In brief:

  • Law firm pay cut: Law firm Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft is cutting the pay of associates and senior administrators by 25% and halting compensation distributions to partners. The firm is “reducing pay across the firm in an effort to proactively address the potential economic impacts the pandemic will have so that it can avoid layoffs down the road.” The firm’s website indicates it has nearly 100 workers in Charlotte. Another big law firm with a Charlotte presence, Womble Bond Dickinson, announced “associate layoffs, employee furloughs, and cuts to lawyer compensation” last week. (Law360/Above the Law)

  • Small business loan guide: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has assembled a guide for small businesses interested in applying for the new coronavirus relief loans/grants. Info here.

  • No citations: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police said they have issued no citations and made no arrests of people violating the county’s “stay at home” ordinance. “When minor violations do occur, officials said, a word to the wise has been sufficient.” (QCity Metro newsletter)

  • Domestic violence calls up: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police say they received 18% more domestic violence calls in March compared with a year earlier. The number of people shooting into homes rose 80%. (WFAE)

  • Slow internet? Median internet download speeds in Charlotte were off nearly 30% in mid-March compared with their usual levels. Charlotte’s median download speed the third week of March was about 50 Mbps. “Local internet service providers, like Spectrum, Google and AT&T, all said their networks are handling the increase in demand well, and that they are constantly monitoring their networks for issues.” (News & Observer)

  • Bankruptcy update: Observer parent McClatchy Co. took in $36M in revenue in March and had about $11M cash on hand at the end of the month, according to documents filed this week in its bankruptcy case. Last year, the company’s annual revenue was $710M. The company said it turned a profit of $539,000 in March … if you don’t count the $1.6B in liabilities it is trying to shed in bankruptcy. It also paid $3.3M in professional fees to bankruptcy lawyers and advisers in March, documents say.

  • Manufacturers gear up: North Carolina factories are racing to convert their operations to make medical supplies such as masks to stem the spread of the coronavirus. (Observer)

  • Hotel job cuts: Great Wolf Lodge in Concord laid off 254 workers, according to documents filed with the state.

  • Neighborhood closes teen hangout: The privately owned Anne Heinig Park, commonly known as Mountainbrook Park, has been closed because of the coronavirus. The Ledger this week printed a post from Nextdoor in which residents complained of teenagers at the park not respecting social-distancing guidelines. On a Nextdoor post on Tuesday passed along to The Ledger, a woman on the park’s board of directors wrote that “continued lack of social distancing on the premises coupled with the statewide order has heightened our need to act.” She asked that people share the message “with all family members, including teenagers.”

  • Grants for creatives: The Arts & Science Council is starting a fund to support local artists and performers feeling the financial effects of Covid-19. The fund will provide $500 grants to qualifying artists. Details here.

  • Coronavirus chatbot: Novant Health has developed a chatbot that is able to help you determine what you should do if you think you might have the coronavirus. It asks you a series of questions, and the back-and-forth looks like a text exchange. (Novant Health)

Are you essential? Prove it with Ledger gear

Whether the county acknowledges it or not, you’re essential … so why not let everybody know it with a new Charlotte Ledger “Essential” T-shirt?

Just in time for spring, these stylish, 100% cotton tees boldly proclaim that you matter — and the typeface can be easily read from a socially distant six feet away.

Now available in cuts for men and women. They’re $15, and for every purchase, The Ledger will donate to the Covid-19 Essential Needs Fund, which helps supply masks and face shields to healthcare workers, provides lodging for patients’ families and caregivers and supports technology for remote healthcare visits during the coronavirus pandemic. It is managed by Charlotte-based Atrium Health Foundation.

For free shipping, use the promo code CLTL20

Order 'Essential' Ledger T-shirt

For the dog in your life: In addition, Mecklenburg’s “stay at home” order deems pet care as an essential service — so make sure your canine lets everyone in the neighborhood know who’s the top dog with a Charlotte Ledger “Doggone Essential” bandana ($13):

Order 'Essential' Ledger dog bandana


Loves me some internet

Last week, you might have seen the coronavirus version of “Hamilton.” Who’s ready for some “Les Mis”?

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The Charlotte Ledger is an e-newsletter and web site publishing timely, informative, and interesting local business news and analysis Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, except holidays and as noted. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.

Editor: Tony Mecia; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire