Virus boosts pot, alcohol sales

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Booze and pot are being enjoyed in record amounts during the pandemic shutdown.

“It’s not that we’ve had a big uptick in customers, it’s that the customers are buying more at a time,” said Phil Carvalho, owner and operator of C&C Farms Rec Shop on West Main Street. Carvalho opened the first legal cannabis store in Medford in 2015.

Statewide marijuana sales surged to $84.5 million in March compared to $61.2 million last March, about a 30% increase.

According to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, alcohol sales in March hit $66 million, a 20% increase over last March. That’s less than the all-time high of $75.85 million last December, when restaurants and bars were open during the holidays. March’s numbers reflect a shift to more at-home consumption.

Carvalho said customers are stocking up on everything from edibles and vape devices to flower, depending on which method of consumption they prefer.

While customers are buying more, Carvalho hasn’t seen more customers, because he’s got more competition around his store. He was the first to open in Medford, but now other cannabis shops have moved into the neighborhood.

Because of the pandemic, cannabis stores have had to learn to adapt while attempting to maintain social distancing rules.

“We were one of the first to shift to curbside delivery,” said Michael Monarch, co-owner of Green Valley Wellness in Talent on North Pacific Highway.

He said his store has two windows for outside service, and if customers order ahead of time, they can receive a text alert that their order is ready.

Of course, customers still have to show valid identification and pay in cash to receive their order.

Monarch said he hasn’t seen more customers, but existing customers have bought more, particularly around the middle of March when the state began issuing stay-at-home orders.

He said he saw a surge in business initially, but then dropped back down toward the end of March after customers stockpiled cannabis supplies.

Overall, he said, March was surprisingly better than last year, and April has continued to be brisk.

Monarch said he applauded the state for designating the cannabis industry as an essential service, allowing it to stay open during the pandemic.

This has helped him retain all his staff during this difficult economic time.

Agriculture has also been designated as an essential service, so Monarch said he’s been able to keep his workers busy on his cannabis crop as well.

Businesses that sell alcohol have also gotten creative.

Liza Jussiaume, wine buyer and manager of Ashland Wine Cellar on Lithia Way, said sales have remained strong during the pandemic, though the store has changed how it interacts with customers and has cut back on its hours.

“Very few people come down here,” Jussiaume said. “People are trusting me to make a case of wine for them and they give me a certain budget.”

Sometimes customers text her that they want a wine for say $20, and she gets it ready for them.

“I’ve had people who won’t roll their window down and make me take a picture of their credit card,” Jussiaume said.

Ordering by phone or email has been so popular, the store is considering keeping this service indefinitely. The store has been delivering wine as well.

While Willamette Valley pinot noirs remain a popular choice for wine enthusiasts, Jussiaume said French Sancerres are a hit with her customers.

“For me, this is definitely a white-wine pandemic,” she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

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