STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Following a national trend, liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries have seen a significant increase in sales since COVID-19 hit Steamboat Springs in March.
The city’s liquor stores saw a 21% increase in sales since 2019, from $13,602,610.75 year-to-date in 2019 to $16,498,106.25 in 2020. Similarly, the city’s three cannabis dispensaries saw a collective 8% increase in sales since 2019, with $9,243,239.50 in 2019 and $10,006,282.74 in 2020.
Charlie Peddie, chief operating officer of Billo, said he did not have exact numbers, but he believed Billo’s sales had individually gone up about 20% since March, which he attributed to the stress and uncertainty COVID-19 has caused.
“Because times are so uncertain, people are willing to try new things right now,” he said, adding a large portion of Billo’s recent customers have been novice cannabis users. “I’m blown away every day by how many people we have that come into the store that have never used it before.”
Peddie also said he believes people are more comfortable using marijuana when alone than they may be using alcohol when alone, which fits well into COVID-19’s forced social isolation.
“Everyone is looking for new ways to live their life, and I think cannabis is just something new for them to try,” he said.
Greg Nealy, partner and general manager of Central Park Liquor, said the store’s liquor sales have consistently increased throughout the pandemic, but sales have spiked each time the county enters a stricter lockdown.
“With each spike (of COVID), as they shut the bars and restaurants down, that spikes our numbers,” he said. “People are drinking at home now more than ever.”
Most of Central Park’s increases, Nealy said, have been hard liquors and cocktail mixers, which he attributed to people wanting to experiment with creative drinks they can no longer order at bars.
“We’re seeing a lot of people that are isolated at home and are online looking at recipes and experimenting with mixed cocktails,” he said.
While in-store sales have increased, Nealy said his staff has also received consistent calls from customers seeking to use their curbside pick-up option.
Dayna DeHerrera-Smith, outreach coordinator for Front Range Clinic Steamboat Springs, said the stressors of COVID-19, mainly the isolation, have pushed more people to substance usage.
“I think everybody has their coping skills, and it’s safe to say that 2020 has required all of us to rely on whatever coping mechanisms we have in place,” she said. “For a lot of folks, substance use is part of that.
“We’re in a time where isolation is an expectation,” she said. “Addiction thrives in isolation.”
For those in recovery, DeHerrera-Smith said in-person socializing with others is vital, which has proven to be a difficult due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“We’re seeing folks who were maybe doing really strong in their recovery and now some of their recovery outlets have gone away with the pandemic,” she said.
Mike Barnes, chief clinical officer at The Foundry treatment center in Steamboat, said in-person interactions before and after addiction recovery meetings are often where those in recovery make their strongest connections, and while meetings can be replicated virtually, the camaraderie and unofficial interaction cannot.
“So much of the fellowship is done outside of the formal meeting,” he said. “That’s a little different in a virtual meeting where you just have faces on a screen.”
Barnes also said the social isolation and associated stress can be a tipping point for those who previously had healthy relationships with substances to start abusing them and for those previously holding strong in their recovery to relapse.
“The stress level is so high for most people that alcohol and other drugs become an outlet,” he said. “If managed in appropriate ways that’s fine, but it can become problematic pretty quickly.”
While the United States Food and Drug Administration approved a COVID-19 vaccine Thursday, the Center for Disease Control and World Health Organizations have warned of a long and difficult winter ahead, which Barnes said will continue to take a toll on people’s mental health.
“We don’t know where we’re headed with this pandemic; there’s still so much uncertainty,” he said.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.