Northside liquor store owners are having to adapt with supply bottlenecks thanks to COVID-19.
Last month, the Mississippi Department of Revenue (DOR) announced it would suspend orders of spirits from customers from the state-owned warehouse from July 10 to July 20 to allow the warehouse to catch up with existing orders, up 29 percent as compared with the April to July time period last year. That represented an additional 300,000 cases.
Although the DOR relented under pressure to take orders again, it still didn’t relieve the backload at the state's 211,000 square foot warehouse in Gluckstadt. It handles about three million cases of wine and spirits annually and has a capacity of 17,000 cases. Mississippi is a control state, which means the state handles wholesale distribution of liquor and wine.
Orders at the warehouse are loaded on the trucks Monday through Thursday for most of the year, which means liquor store owners receive the first orders of the week on Tuesdays rather than Mondays.
Orders for liquor stores that once took a few days to arrive are now 12 to 14 days to arrive. Before COVID, liquor store owners could place an order before the 11 a.m. cutoff and count on it either being there the next day or the day after except for busy times like holidays, when an order might take an extra day to arrive.
“I know there are some big stores that have 15 orders that are pending and there’s no way that the ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) can catch up,” said John Skelton, owner of Reservoir Wine and Spirits in Ridgeland. “They shut it down for a week and all that does is back it up even more. Things are trickling in, they’re coming, but I’d hate to be in their shoes up there dealing with this.”
Skelton says that the DOR changing its liquor and spirits delivery contract from one shipping company to another has had an impact, but he’s unsure how much of a contributing factor it was in the present supply chain bottleneck.
David Rushing has owned Joe T’s Spirits in Ridgeland for 20 years and is trying to plan ahead when placing orders.
“The ordering has largely been the same, but the issue is how long it is taking from the time we place the order to the time we see it coming through the door,” Rushing said. “It provides challenges, that’s for sure. It’s never been a perfect system.
“I don’t know what the answer is, that’s way above my paygrade. We as stores have had to adjust for the last month, month and a half and I’ve had work further ahead as I order knowing it’s going to take two weeks.”
Both owners say that there were two events that increased demand to near-panic buying levels. When Gov. Tate Reeves issued his initial COVID-19 declaration in March, rumors persisted that one of the planks of the governor’s mitigation plan was to close liquor stores statewide.
“That rush changed everything,” Rushing said. “It’d be nice to get it fixed, but there isn’t a magic answer. It’s not going to be fixed overnight or week to week.”
Another rush came after July 10, when the DOR announced it would suspend taking orders from customers.
As far as a solution, Skelton says the DOR needs to bring in more workers to load trucks so orders can be delivered to customers, but he said that transitioning to a state-chartered corporation to run the warehouse might be difficult.
“If we’re this backed up, let’s get more people in there, work longer hours, more delivery companies,” Skelton said. “State employees up there are getting every holiday off, they work their 8 to 5 and then they’re gone. It’s not a profit-driven thing where ‘who wants some overtime, who wants to work this weekend, let’s get it done.’”