WEST FARGO — Worries about growing numbers of coronavirus cases in the U.S. may have sparked some hoarding in the Fargo-Moorhead area — toilet paper and hand sanitizer, anyone? But it hasn’t sparked similar runs at area liquor stores, nor been a drag on people heading out for a meal or a drink.
At Buffalo Wings & Rings in West Fargo, general manager Alex Cook says it’s still business as usual, if not a bit better than average. He credits the raft of people staying out late to stock up on toilet paper and whatever else they think they’ll need if they must self-quarantine.
“This week, every day but yesterday was busier” than usual, Cook said Friday, March 13, just after the lunch crowd cleared out.
He’s unsure of how business will go in coming weeks. A lot will depend on people’s comfort levels.
“I don’t know, man. I just don’t know the mindset,” Cook said. “I see a lot of people grab supplies, which tells me people want to stay” inside.
The impact of the cancellation of many sporting events is also an unknown.
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“It’s too early to tell,” he said, even though some regulars — used to getting their fill of sporting events on the bar and restaurant’s many flat screen televisions — are upset about the cancellation or suspension of many major regional and national sporting events.
“I was expecting an uptick in business” when the events were to be held without crowds, but that has changed with the cancellations, Cook said.
“Right now, there’s no adverse effects, but this is the first weekend. We’ll have to go through the next two weeks to see what happens. A drop for self-quarantining wouldn’t surprise me.”
Once the area’s colleges and universities bring back their students for face-to-face classes, Cook expects people will return to going out as they normally do, “because then it’s safe.”
Other popular food and recreation stops are also taking things day by day.
Jonathan Holth, co-owner of The Toasted Frog restaurants in downtown Fargo, Bismarck and Grand Forks, said the last couple weeks have “been about average for us.”
But the news on the spread of the virus, and measures being taken to slow it, is evolving rapidly now.
“We’re taking things day by day. We don’t have any predictions what might happen,” Holth said. “We’re just taking this information in as it comes and going from there.”
The Toasted Frog prides itself on serving fine food and drink, so its business model isn’t focused on special events to crowd in customers, he said.
“It’s been business as usual for us, and we’ll continue to operate that way,” Holth said.
At The Bowler in south Fargo, Manager Jolene Tandeski was standing next to a line of regular customers at the bar, listening to President Trump declare the coronavirus outbreak a national emergency.
Tandeski said the popular night spot and bowling alley hasn’t seen a drop-off in business the last couple weeks. Events such as karaoke on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and bingo and trivia night on Friday, will still go on, but “that could change day by day.”
“As of today, a half an hour ago, it’s the same,” Tandeski said. “Tomorrow is another day.”
Some area liquor stores have seen an uptick in business, but it’s not the panic buying that’s been seen at supermarkets and Big Box stores. In particular, traffic has increased at the Cash Wise Liquor stores.
“Well, we’ve definitely seen an increase in business. … People are buying necessity things first, and adult beverages” after that, said Mike Kosloski, director of liquor operations for Coborns, the corporate parent of the Cash Wise grocery and Cash Wise Liquor stores in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
“We are seeing an uptake, but not a run. Our supply chain is in pretty good shape,” Kosloski said. “We will do our best to stay in stock. It’s really going to be driven by the consumer.”
There’s still plenty of liquor to be had at the Costco Warehouse store in West Fargo, Assistant Manager Jim Allred said.
“It hasn’t been a big rush on that at all. It’s pretty normal,” Allred said.
At Happy Harry’s Bottle Shop on 45th Street South in Fargo, people may grab an extra bottle or case of beer, but there hasn’t been a rush of unusually large purchases, Happy Harry’s CEO Dustin Mitzel said.
“It’s just like everything else. People are getting a little extra something. People are doing their shopping, and they decide to get an extra case of beer or something. Nothing that’s noticeably different,” Mitzel said.
On Friday, Mary Schmidt, of Perham, Minn., had filled her cart with bottles of wine and liquor. Schmidt said she was simply restocking.
“We have a lot of wine around the house,” she said. She thought the hoarding that’s gone on with toilet paper “is crazy.”
Joking with the cashier at the checkout counter, she said, “I think if we had to decide between the toilet paper and the liquor, we’d get the liquor.”
Despite the unknowns over how coronavirus will affect the nation, Mitzel said people’s spirits are good.
“Overall, people are shopping as they always have been,” Mitzel said. “The supply lines are good. We’ve been in communication with our distributors. The inventory is good.”
The only thing that’s changed is that in-store tastings have been suspended.
“We’re going to pause those until further notice. Just an abundance of caution,” Mitzel said. “All in all, business as usual. They come to get a bottle of wine, and maybe a second bottle.”