Portsmouth liquor store

The New Hampshire Liquor Commission’s new Portsmouth New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlet located at the Portsmouth Traffic Circle. 

While some on social media want the state to close its liquor stores to help slow the spread of COVID-19, the state says it’s reducing hours and working to develop curbside pickup options.

The State Liquor Commission is also allowing restaurants and bars to return some of its inventory bought in the past 30 days. In-person dining was banned as of March 17, normally one of the busiest days of the year for bars and restaurants.

Under a temporary order, restaurants are allowed to sell beer and wine to go with food orders, but mixed-drinks and hard liquor aren’t allowed.

“The commission is aware that on-premises licensees may have a larger inventory of liquor or beverages on hand than what will reasonably be needed to meet anticipated demand,” a note to licensees reads. “In many cases, this inventory was purchased prior to the imposition of these restrictions.”

CEO Tom Boucher said Great New Hampshire Restaurants plans to return about $50,000 worth of liquor inventory.

“It is just sitting on the shelves right now doing nothing,” he said. “If we can return that and get $50,000 into our accounts to continue to pay for our salaried managers and all of our overhead costs like rent, loans, health insurance and liability insurance, we will. All those expenses come in whether we have customers or not.”

The group, which operates T-Bone’s, Copper Door, CJ’s Great West Grill and Cactus Jack’s, is taking advantage of the order to sell beer and wine to go.

Both measures are seen as a way to help restaurants that have either temporarily shut down or only offering takeout, said E.J. Powers, a spokesman for the liquor commission.

“The commission recognizes the unprecedented situation we’re facing with COVID-19,” he said.

Restaurants can return unopened bottles to stores. Larger returns can be arranged through the commission’s warehousing partner, DHL.

Powers was unable to say how many returns have been made as of Wednesday. “There are some restaurants that have taken advantage of that, while others are weathering the storm and anxiously looking forward to reopening,” Powers said.

The Liquor and Wine Outlets remain open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday at all locations. Sunday hours vary by location.

Sales are “brisk,” Powers said, with some customers taking advantage of the “Bottle Bucks” sale (for every $150 spent customers receive $25 in Bottle Bucks for a later purchase).

“We’ve observed some customers stocking up,” he said.

Rosemary Wiant, the commission’s chief operating officer, said during a virtual meeting with executive councilors Tuesday that employees have been given guidance about how to try and create distance at checkout lines.

“We have been actively working on developing a curbside solution for this particular event we are dealing with,” she said. “There would be much more control over the transaction much along the lines of Hannaford (Supermarkets) To-Go model, and that’s being developed right now.”

The state is also looking at ways to expand purchases of alcohol through the state’s online portal, Gov. Chris Sununu said.

All liquor store employees who aren’t comfortable with working at the retail checkout counter are given other tasks in the store, he said.

“We are trying to give all the flexibility in the world to our employees to make sure they are safe,” he said.

Union Leader reporter Kevin Landrigan contributed to this article.

Friday, July 10, 2020