DOVER — The COVID-19 pandemic has caused lasting damage, but it has also been a catalyst for change for some industries in the First State and around the globe.
On Tuesday, the state House of Representatives’ Administration Committee met virtually to discuss House Bill 289, a measure that would permanently allow liquor stores, farm wineries, breweries, microbreweries, craft distilleries and wine auctions to provide curbside service to deliver alcoholic beverages to customers.
The committee voted unanimously to release the bill to the floor of the House.
Early in the pandemic, Gov. John Carney joined legislators to create temporary measures that would allow restaurants, bars and pubs to sell to-go alcohol orders and permit liquor stores and wineries to offer curbside pickup.
Last week, House lawmakers approved HB 290 — sponsored by Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach — which would remove a sunset provision to a policy allowing bars and restaurants to sell to-go alcoholic beverages and utilize extended outdoor seating. The policy was designed to allow customers to support their favorite establishments during the ongoing pandemic, and it is awaiting action in the Senate.
“COVID has changed everything. It’s changed the way we deliver products and everything like this. People have become very comfortable ... with some of the things that were put into place with executive order. This is one of them. This curbside, I think, is the only fair thing to do. I mean, it’s ... changed the way we do things,” Rep. Schwartzkopf said.
Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Bellefonte, is the key sponsor of HB 289, along with co-sponsors Rep. Schwartzkopf; Rep. Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear; and Sens. Spiro Mantzavinos, D-Elsmere, and Kyle Evans Gay, D-Talleyville.
“This bill ... gives parity to the restaurants that ... allows them to serve alcoholic beverages curbside,” Rep. Heffernan said Tuesday.
Key stakeholders in the state’s alcohol-sales and -creation industry joined the Zoom meeting to support the measure.
Edward Mulvihill, fourth-generation owner and operator of Peco’s Liquors in Wilmington, said having curbside sales helped his family’s business. He is also the president of the Small Beverage License Council.
“Speaking just from my business, in March, April, May of 2020, we were doing about 40% of all our orders curbside to go. That number has since dropped dramatically as the pandemic has progressed, but we still have a core group of customers, mainly elderly folks, who still take advantage of it,” he said.
HB 289 was written with the help of the Delaware Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement and the state Office of Alcoholic Beverage Control Commissioner. Employees making curbside deliveries must be properly trained, anyone younger than 21 years old cannot pick up a curbside order, and all items must be sealed.
“This is a consumer convenience that became popular during the pandemic. And yeah, we’d like to see it extended going forward. And we’re happy to work with DATE and the Office of the Alcoholic Beverage (Control) Commissioner to work out any regulations that need (to) be continued, be good partners with them and ensure that we’re doing this aboveboard, safely and responsibly. That’s kind of our motto,” Mr. Mulvihill said.
Eric Williams, founder of Mispillion River Brewing in Milford, operates a brewpub and sells to liquor stores. He thanked lawmakers Tuesday for working on measures that help his business and others like it.
“This is just another tool that we can use to help our businesses get through these trying times, especially during the omicron variant. So we’re in full support of this, and we’d like to see this be permanently put in so that we can continue to grow our industry and tourism within Delaware,” Mr. Williams said.
Ron Gomes of Painted Stave Distilling in Smyrna said tools like HB 289 are vital for businesses like his to survive.
“Small businesses have had to reinvent themselves in order to meet the needs of their customers. The ability of Painted Stave, for instance, to move its products … was decimated in 2020 and remains down about 60% relative to pre-pandemic levels. Now with federal and state assistance payments, Painted Stave has made substantial investments in hardware and software and, importantly, staff to meet the needs of the changing consumer,” he said.
The measure will be put on the legislative calendar to be discussed on the House floor.