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The Pandemic Has Idled Many Kansas City Workers, But This Alcohol Delivery Man Has Been Busier Than Ever

Liquor store employee has order prepared for delivery
Noah Taborda
/
KCUR 89.3
Since stay-at-home orders went into effect Gabe Burkhart has mostly had one job: delivery driver.

Liquor sales are up in the metro, mirroring national trends, but one Kansas City store has had to change how it does business to meet demand.

Gabe Burkhart starts every delivery by thoroughly wiping down his car and everything in it.

“It’s sort of like a routine. I was already a germaphobe, but now I’m always thinking about what surfaces the virus could be on,” he said on Wednesday, as he disinfected his steering wheel.

Burkhart works for Mike’s Wine & Spirits in Kansas City. Before the pandemic, he said he did a bit of everything around the store, but since stay-at-home orders went into effect in March, he’s been doing one thing almost constantly: delivering alcohol.

Delivery driver Gabe Burkhart disinfects his car before delivery
Noah Taborda
/
KCUR 89.3
The Coronavirus has made it difficult and unsafe for older customers to come into the store, so many have turned to delivery. That’s part of the reason Burkart created a cleaning routine to keep his car, and orders, disinfected.

Even as many metro residents are starting to consider a return to work with the gradual lifting of stay-at-home orders, Burkhart is winding down what has been a whirlwind few weeks bringing booze straight to buyers across the city.

Reports nationwide suggest alcohol consumption is up during the pandemic and the same can be said for the Kansas City area. Dan Lemon with local liquor distributor Worldwide Beverage Group says his company has seen a 19% increase in sales during the pandemic.

“Our business has all shifted to the retail side. With more people not being able to go out, they are buying more from liquor stores and staying home and drinking,” Lemon said.

Burkhart opens his trunk to store alcohol for delivery
Noah Taborda
/
KCUR 89.3
Order numbers spiked early on when people may have been panicking. Since then, delivery orders have dropped off a bit, but are holding steady, Burkhart says.

For Burkhart at Mike's, this has translated into a lot more home deliveries. Customers can choose from what’s in stock at Mike's and order through the store's app. They can then monitor their order’s progress online. That is, how quickly the bottle is going to arrive.

Burkhart says most deliveries have been painless, but he’s found people’s expectations of non-contact delivery can make things complicated sometimes.

“People are so used to you just leaving the order at the door now, but we need to verify their age and scan their ID,” Burkhart said. "That can be tricky right now. People want to keep their distance.”

Liquor store delivery driver waiting outside of customers door
Noah Taborda
/
KCUR 89.3
All delivery orders for Mike’s Wine & Spirits are placed through an app that requires delivery drivers to scan the IDs of the customers. Burkhart says some are apprehensive to let him close enough to do so.

The rise in alcohol consumption may be good business for Burkhart, but it’s not without dangers.

Health experts say the increase in liquor sales has brought an accompanying rise in the risk of alcohol abuse. And the World Health Organization has gone so far as to urge governments to restrict access to alcohol throughout the pandemic. The WHO said alcohol can lower drinkers’ baseline immunity, which could increase the risk of infection. It also said increased use of alcohol can lead to mental health issues and violence.

050620_NT_AverageOrder
Noah Taborda
/
KCUR 89.3
Mike's says bestsellers during the pandemic include boxed wine, Bud Light and tequila in the lead-up to Cinco de Mayo.

Still, Burkhart said, customers seem mostly grateful for his deliveries.

“We’ll get little 'thank you' notes left for us sometimes. Makes you feel really valued,” he said.

While things may be going well right now, both he and Mike’s manager Andy Doohan are cautious about painting too rosy a picture.

“I’ve seen a lot about liquor sales being up, but a lot of bars, many of our partners are really struggling. We aren’t sure how that will impact us yet,” Doohan said. “We’ll just hang tight and do the best we can for now.”

Ramen the dog watches over door to make sure they don't go over capacity
Noah Taborda
/
KCUR 89.3
The store has taken a few precautions for health and safety. Their dog Ramen watches the door to make sure they don't pass capacity and greets delivery drivers as they return.

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