Florida loves its toilet paper and booze during hard times

In-store sales appear to be rising, as are sales made using delivery services.
In-store liquor sales appear to be on the rise.
In-store liquor sales appear to be on the rise. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published March 30, 2020

Stories about the coronavirus pandemic are free to read as a public service at If this coverage is important to you, consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Tampa Bay Times at

• • •

In tough times, we love toilet paper, guns and booze. Those are the obvious takeaways from the past few weeks.

TP remains elusive enough that an over-anxious Publix shopper elbowed me and the man in front of me to grab a 12-pack of the soft stuff on the weekend. Just the thought that he might not get one of the hundreds of packs lining the shelf sent him into survival mode. He nearly trampled a white-haired woman when he moved on to paper towels, also in abundant supply that day.

Gun shops report a brisk business, so brisk that popular calibers of ammunition are being rationed.

And then there’s alcohol. Apparently, shelter-in-place is a lot more palatable with a bottle of Jack Daniels — or three. Sales at stores nationwide were up nearly 28 percent for wine, 27 percent for liquor and 14 percent for beer in the week that ended March 14, according to Nielsen, which compiles data on what consumers watch and buy.

Virtual happy hours, where people visit with friends and family using video calling services like Zoom, appear to be helping prop up sales. Online scheduling platform Doodle recorded a 296 percent increase in the boozy meetings in March compared to February, CNBC reported.

Drizly, an alcohol delivery app that links customers with local liquor stores in 26 states including Florida, reported a 300 percent increase in sales from earlier in the year. The number of orders increased, plus people bought more per order. Vivino, the online wine marketplace and app, saw 300 percent growth internationally, helping it set a company record for the amount of merchandise sold.

It will be a while before we know how much in-store and delivery purchases offset lost restaurant and bar sales.

• • •

FPL, the state’s largest electric utility, is spending less on fuel. Normally, the company would return the extra money to customers in small, monthly increments. Instead, FPL announced Monday that it will ask the state to give it back in one month to help customers get through the financial crisis.

The one-time rate cut amounts to about a 25 percent decrease in the May billing cycle, the company said in a news release. The price of natural gas has fallen, and FPL has built several solar arrays, which means it doesn’t need to buy as much fuel.

“I believe this one-time bill decrease is the most effective way to infuse customers with much-needed money as we all navigate through this difficult and unsettling time together,” FPL president and CEO Eric Silagy said in a statement.

FPL serves about 5 million customers, mostly in South Florida.


Looking for bright spots as the economy wavers? PitchBook, which follows capital markets, reminds us that the value of venture capital deals dropped 28 percent during the Great Recession, but the number of deals only fell 5 percent. And angel and seed deals — those that help startups get up and running — actually rose.

Investors are out there, PitchBook said, some of them looking for deals in the right industries. Startups that focus on health or food could get hit hard. But those in the information security space shouldn’t be as affected.

“This suggests that startups will still have the opportunity to find investors, though deal sizes are likely to be much lower,” PitchBook concluded.

• • •

Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage

GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 and Tampa Bay, six days a week

ISOLATED ENTERTAINMENT: Lists of ideas to help entertain yourself and your kids at home

NEED TAKEOUT?: Here’s the Tampa Bay restaurants offering curbside pick-up or delivery

FOLLOW OUR COVERAGE ON SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. Reddit.

LISTEN TO THE CORONAVIRUS PODCAST: New episodes every week, including interviews with experts and reporters

HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips

We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.