When Colorado liquor stores sell out of Everclear because people use it as hand sanitizer, you know that business is no longer the same.
"It's 188-proof grain alcohol," said Jack Backman, owner of Cheers Liquor Mart in Colorado Springs. "You can drink it or sanitize with it."
Backman, who has owned the store at Circle Drive and Uintah Street for 25 years, said he's had a 100% increase in sales in the past week during the coronavirus outbreak.
"We were really busy earlier this week after the governor closed most restaurants and bars," he said. "People are stocking up. They're buying cases of liquor instead of single bottles. They're buying kegs of beer instead of six-packs."
Backman said vodka is the most popular item.
"What's helping our business is we've added delivery and curbside service," he said. "I'll bet we've had 50 deliveries today. People want their booze on hand in case they get stuck at home for a week or two because they get sick or their job shuts down."
Curbside service seems simple enough -- until an employee struggled to lift a keg of beer into the back seat of a customer's car.
It was a common sight Friday; customers carrying armfuls of liquor packages and employees wheeling out boxes and cases of alcohol.
But there's a catch to the booming business at liquor stores, said Jeanne McEvoy, head of 1,600 stores belonging to the Colorado Liquor Stores Association.
"In 2019, grocery and convenience stores were allowed to sell beer for off-premise consumption," she said. "That was a very significant hit to most of our liquor stores . Most were reporting a 30% to 50% reduction in their liquor sales. So any additional sales we're having now, kind of fills up that hole a little bit."
However, McEvoy said liquor store sales will gradually return to normal after the COVID-19 virus crisis ends.
Because of the increased customer traffic, stores also are taking more time to sanitize counters, shopping carts, door handles and other surfaces -- using basic sanitizing liquids, not Everclear.
Backman said individual liquor bottles, which can be handled by customers many times during the day, aren't being sanitized because doing so would take too much time.
"We're counting on customers to do it when they take their alcohol home," he said.
One customer said he can't understand the high demand at liquor stores.
"I come here once a week to get what I need and I'll keep doing that," he said.
Some customers also reported increased business at the two recreational marijuana dispensaries in Manitou Springs -- and that managers were making sure that no more than 10 customers at a time were in lines or in the shops.