“Essential” Liquor Stores Quench America’s Quarantine Thirst

South Asian American liquor store owners confront a dilemma: higher sales but higher risks.

Rujuta Saksena

May 8, 2020

“Essential” Liquor Stores Quench America’s Quarantine Thirst
Sanjay Patel, who has owned a Delaware liquor store since 1998, is taking safety precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rujuta Saksena)

“Dad, wear a mask to work!”

I texted this to my inherently placid parents in early April, as the COVID-19 crisis unfolded. In contrast to my perturbed text, my father replied with a simple “OK.” By now, he had taken to terse replies and a strategy of ostensible agreement when it came to his daughter sharing unsolicited doctorly advice.

My father is an easygoing, “hakuna matata” type of man who has owned a liquor store in Delaware since 1998. He has a ready smile and is a natural at hearty conversations with his customers. My favorite sommelier knows the best wines to pair with foods — he has tested them out himself.

When many American leaders deemed liquor stores essential amid a diabolical pandemic, my feathers were ruffled — both as a daughter and as a health care professional. During global pandemics, there’s usually agreement on what constitutes essential services: health care workers, law enforcement, utility workers, groceries, journalism. But liquor stores are a controversial call.