Hurricane Irene prompts a flood of Philadelphia-area liquor purchases

At Kress Wines in Cherry Hill, owners Mario and Ann Del Monte look at a shelf that was full of bottles before the pre-Irene rush.
At Kress Wines in Cherry Hill, owners Mario and Ann Del Monte look at a shelf that was full of bottles before the pre-Irene rush. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 31, 2011

Forget bread, milk, and eggs. It appears the region's residents rode out Hurricane Irene with booze.

Whether the boost in business was for hosting hurricane parties or just hunkering down with a bit of Southern Comfort, sales at liquor stores were way up in the days approaching Irene.

"We were reporting at some of our Philadelphia stores the wave of people we usually see during the December holiday season," said Stacey Witalec, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. "It was a New Year's Eve-type crowd."

Sales for the week ended Saturday were $37 million, she said. That is up $5 million over the same week a year earlier.

One popular purchase was Bacardi Hurricane, whose sales were up 311 percent over the previous week. Wine coolers were up 550 percent.

"You wouldn't think people would buy so much alcohol with a crisis coming," said Sonya Hawkes, general manager at the premium Wine & Spirits Store at 1940 S. Columbus Blvd. "We figured we would be busy, but not as busy as it was."

At Kress Wine in Cherry Hill, the storm caused a surge in sales of red wine, said owner Mario Del Monte.

White wine is normally the big seller in summer, Del Monte said. Red, however, needs no refrigeration. Ice sales "were humongous" he added.

Overall, the store's sales doubled Friday and were up 70 percent Saturday, he said, calling it "a summertime blizzard."

If Twitter was any indication, the drinking phenomena followed the projected path of Irene from south to north.

@VTKtorg from Raleigh, N.C.: "Hitting the grocery story this afternoon. We have plenty of water, it is the wine and beer I am worried about for the weekend #irene"

There was also no shortage of tweeted jokes.

From New Yorker @YuliZ: "okay I'm increasing my wine intake to category 2 #irene #fb"

And, a new drinking game was even born.

@shutUPvictoriya: "maybe we should play a hurricane drinking game. turn on the news and every time they mention it or say #irene you take a drink."

The spike in sales at Pennsylvania state stores apparently was not exclusively because of Irene.

Champagne sales shot up 20 percent last Wednesday, which Witalec attributed to the earthquake the day before.


Contact staff writer Mari A. Schaefer at 610-892-9149, mschaefer@phillynews.com, or @MariSchaefer on Twitter.

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