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Pa. liquor stores record spike in sales before recent snowstorm

Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Marva Brown, 46, of Monroeville adds vodka to her cart during a shopping trip on Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, in Fine Wine and Good Spirits in Monroeville. Brown said she tends to purchase more alcohol when the weather worsens.

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Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, 10:00 p.m.

When snow and ice are predicted to blanket Pennsylvania towns, shoppers are not just stocking up on milk, bread and toilet paper.

Turns out, they're making sure the bar is stocked, too.

Compared with the same day a year earlier, wine and spirits sales jumped 51 percent — about $2 million — on Feb. 4, the day before a winter storm pounded the state with a messy mix of snow, ice and freezing rain, according to the state Liquor Control Board. Figures for the storm on Feb. 12 and 13 were not available.

And people were not restocking the liquor cabinet with just anything — they were reaching for the good stuff.

Sales of “luxury” products skyrocketed 74 percent that day, according to LCB spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman. The LCB considers Chairman's Selection wines, other higher-end wines and some spirits to be “luxury” products, she explained.

But all that pre-storm buying can be balanced by sales dips on the back end of storms. Sales dropped about 33 percent, or $1.5 million, on Feb. 5 when about 50 stores were closed or lost power, Kriedeman said.

Severe weather, be it snow storms or hurricanes, typically means a bump in sales, but the size of the increase depends on how predictably a storm is moving and how much media attention it gets before it hits, said Dale Horst, director of retail operations for the LCB.

“The key is that every storm is unique in its severity,” Horst said. “It's also the buying habits of customers. ... Whether they want to stock up ahead of time is directly related to the information that comes out pre-storm.”

Christine Jakubowski, 50, of Greensburg was preparing on Friday for the light snow predicted for the weekend.

“Usually, I go to the beer distributor when it snows,” she said. “When you're snowed in, you usually want to drink because you don't have to drive.”

Jakubowski stopped at the Fine Wine and Good Spirits store behind Westmoreland Mall to pick up chocolate vodka to mix into her hot chocolate, which she planned to sip on her porch while watching the snow fall.

“I think it's like comfort food. You want a comfort drink when it's cold and snowy,” said Marva Brown, 46, of Monroeville. “It's been a rough two weeks.”

Steven Fassnacht, 27, a truck driver from Ligonier, said snow and ice make for bad days at work, so he's more likely to stock up before a storm.

“It's a stress reliever, I guess,” he said.

In the days before Superstorm Sandy, the 2012 storm that devastated parts of the East Coast, liquor sales increased about 24 percent in the eastern part of the state, LCB figures show.

People tend to buy the same items pre-storm that they would on any other day, Horst said. That generally means whiskey, vodka and average-priced table wine are the best sellers, he said.

“People buy what they drink, the same as in the supermarket,” he said.

But unlike perishable storm staples — milk and eggs — alcohol does not spoil, he noted.

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or

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