Off licence owners across the country are bracing themselves for a ‘very busy’ weekend as spring temperatures soar and bars remain shut over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend due to government measures.
Off licences were deemed an essential service when lockdown measures were announced two weeks ago and some owners have reported a 25pc surge in sales since.
This surge will reach new heights today as pandemic measures will see off licences in store for a busy weekend yet again as pubs will remain closed.
While Easter used to be a busy time for off licence owners when pubs were ordered to close on Good Fridays, legislation changes last year saw pubs open on Good Friday after the ban was lifted after almost 100 years.
However, this uptake in business has been described as being “bittersweet” according to Mark Tormey, manager of The Wine Centre in Kilkenny.
“We are busy,” he said.
“A lot of new customers, our online sales have picked up as well.
“It is bittersweet, we don’t like to say we are flying it, because it is bittersweet.”
The specialist off licence sells craft beers, select wines as well as whiskeys and runs a craft beer bar at the back of the shop, which has been closed.
However, the loss of the bar has made up in general sales.
“We’ve gained what we’ve lost from tourists, we’ve lost big whiskey sales which are predominantly tourist driven but we’re making that back in wine sales and new customers,” explained Mr Tormey.
While he expects to have a busy Easter Weekend, he said that customers aren’t “stockpiling or having parties”.
“People aren’t having parties or gatherings so it’s a strange one, St Patrick’s weekend we were up, but we’ve been up since all this began. But it wouldn’t have been as high as normal years. It’s all just very eerie,” he said.
In east Co Cork, Fine Gael Cllr Noel McCarthy has been running an off license in Fermoy for 15 years.
“I remember Good Friday when the pubs were closed it would be one of my busiest days of the year,” he recalled.
“Last year it was just an ordinary Friday.”
“We’re expecting a very busy weekend but a lot of these people would definitely prefer being able to go for a pint rather than having to drink at home,” he said.
Cllr McCarthy said that he has seen sales have increased by up to 25pc.
“The extra business I’m getting in my off licenses has been up 20pc, if not 25pc. I appreciate people coming in but, the ‘new people’, as I call them, would definitely prefer going into their local pub,” he said.
“Without a doubt we have benefitted, but we don’t want to benefit in this way. That’s not the way we like to see our business growing.”
“It’s bittersweet, I appreciate being busy but I’d prefer if we were all open, rather than gaining from anybody else not being able to open their business,” he added.
The National Off Licence Association, which represents 315 standalone outlets, said that off licences “play an important role in the fight against COVID-19 by reducing queues and overcrowding in the supermarket and mixed-trade settings”.