Coronavirus Florida: Liquor stores are considered ‘critical business’? Someone will drink to that
This content is being provided for free as a public service to our readers during the coronavirus outbreak. Please support local journalism by subscribing to the Northwest Florida Daily News or the Panama City News Herald .
Kelly Cattau combed through Palm Beach County’s 12-page order that closed “noncritical” businesses as of 5 p.m. Thursday fully expecting her Jupiter nail salon would be shutting its doors by mandate.
But on page 10, in subparagraph “nn,” the sweeping policy said it excludes personal grooming services, noting hair and nail salons specifically as operations that can remain open as coronavirus constrictions tighten.
“Obviously there was a sense of relief. I did not know we were considered essential,” said Cattau, who owns Savannah Nail Bar. “I wholeheartedly trust whatever directions are given to us. I just want the public to feel comfortable.”
Throughout Florida, leaders are making life and death decisions for businesses trying to survive an unprecedented economic implosion.
Rulings on which are essential and which must shutter balance multiple facets of an altered life. Maintaining civility, allowing for a sliver of market stimulation, controlling the coronavirus, and offering an occasional morale boost are all considerations, said Hugh Gladwin, a retired Florida International University anthropologist, who has studied how people react during emergency situations, such as hurricanes.
“Life, which is culture, and work, and everything else, is having to be maintained inside our homes for the most part, which is weird,” Gladwin said. “Right now there is a whole new mode of life. This is all about keeping life going.”
Liquor stores, dry cleaners and pool care services. Critical?
Palm Beach County’s order, delivered by Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker and County Mayor Dave Kerner, has six pages of exemptions for businesses allowed to keep running, including the obvious — pharmacies, grocery stores, farms, gas stations, banks and healthcare facilities.
Others were less overtly critical. Liquor stores, dry cleaners and pool care services are also allowed to remain open, as are gun shops.
The businesses must adhere to health care recommendations of having people separated by 6 feet, and having workers wear gloves and masks where required.
At ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, which has 125 stores statewide, protective Plexiglass shields are being installed at cash registers to protect customers and employees during checkout. Tape on the floor marked in X’s designates the 6-foot sweet spot for people to stand.
“How would we survive without them,” said Palm Beach resident Terry Kemper, about liquor stores.
Kemper was picking up gin, scotch and tonic water at an ABC store in West Palm Beach on Friday.
“I would think for the notion of keeping the peace, it would be very important,” he said.
Orders outlining essential businesses in Broward and Miami-Dade counties also include allowing liquor stores to remain open.
That’s one reason Palm Beach County gives for keeping the party going.
“We recognized that our neighbors to the south included liquor stores as an operation to remain open under their orders,” said Palm Beach County spokeswoman Lisa De La Rionda. “Ours was crafted similarly, identifying many of the same services as critical.”
According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, Pennsylvania was the only state as of March 18 to close all liquor stores. In a letter to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, the council offered alternatives to the shutdown, including scaled back hours of operation and limiting the number of people in a store.
“The spirits industry stands ready to assist you in exploring innovative approaches to protect Pennsylvanians while easing the burden on consumers and the hospitality industry,” wrote council president Chris Swonger.
Pennsylvania media outlets reported as of Thursday liquor stores were still closed, but that the state was considering allowing limited online sales.
Delaware Gov. John Carney said liquor stores are considered essential businesses because “there are unfortunately a lot of Delawareans who have substance abuse problems,” according to Delaware Online.
“Our hospital personnel have been encouraging me to keep those open so that we don’t have a surge of folks in our emergency rooms that are dealing with the withdrawal that comes along with alcohol dependency,” Carney is quoted as saying.
Closing liquor stores, and stopping the sale of beer and wine, isn’t unusual in other emergency situations, such as hurricanes.
But coronavirus isn’t a hurricane.
‘Are we essential? Who knows? People define things differently’
“In hurricanes there is always this fear of looting and social disorder, and it’s a justified fear that alcohol could fuel that,” Gladwin said. “This is different. We have water, we have power, you can go to a restaurant and get takeout.”
Alcohol, Gladwin said, is a social ritual, part of the culture and part of “keeping life going.”
Maybe getting a mani-pedi isn’t a lifesaving measure, but it makes people happy in a scary world. Cattau said she knows there’s been backlash about businesses staying open. She’s following all the CDC recommendations about social distancing, and wearing gloves and masks.
“Are we essential? Who knows? People define things differently,” Cattau said. “I do think it’s essential to keep as many businesses open as possible.”
While she’s losing money by staying open, she wants to give her employees the opportunity to work as long as possible.
“It’s not even about me at this point,” she said. “I’m truly taking it day by day.”