ABC temporarily closing 78 stores

ABC store in Jacksonville

Shelves are filled with liquor at the ABC Store in Jacksonville in this file photo. The state's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has announced it's temporarily closing dozens of stores and limiting hours at others in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is temporarily closing today 78 stores and reducing hours at others in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“Because of staffing requirements and health concerns, we believe that closing some of our stores will provide the greatest amount of employee/customer protection, while ensuring maximum productivity and efficiency,” ABC’s government relations manager Dean Argo said in an email.

In 2018, ABC had 864 employees, according to Alabama State Personnel Department data. There are about 170 stores statewide.

Argo said that staff at the shuttered stores would be moved to others nearby.

Stores remaining nearby open will operate from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m., Argo said.

Starting Wednesday, all stores will operate as “over the counter,” Argo said, to keep distance between customers and employees and no more than five customers at a time will be allowed in a store.

Customers will not be allowed to get products from store shelves. Store personnel will ask customers for their order, retrieve it and bring it to check out.

Customers are being asked to pay with credit and debit cards, not cash.

As of Monday evening, the Alabama Department of Public Health reported 29 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in the state. Seventeen of them are in Jefferson County, the state’s most populated county.

With some many people practicing “social distancing” as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested, people are stocking up on everything, including alcohol.

“Over the last week or so sales have been on the uptick,” Argo told Alabama Daily News on Monday. “I’m not saying that that is directly related to COVID-19 but I will say that sales are increasing.”

On Sunday, Gov. Kay Ivey issued a memo to all state agency directors saying they should advise employees to work from home if possible starting Monday. If working from home is not feasible, the employee should remain away from the workplace and practice social distancing, as appropriate, for the next several weeks, Ivey’s memo said.

Events and gatherings of more than 50 people are discouraged and schools and colleges across the state have closed or moved classes online.