Though most cope with a recession by cutting down costs, students have proven to be an exception — specifically when it comes to buying alcohol.
Despite the ongoing floundering economy across the state and county, liquor sales in both Washtenaw County and around Michigan have grown over the last year.
In 2009 Washtenaw County reported a 1-percent gain in its $31.59 million annual wholesale liquor purchasing industry. The top 16 of the 100 establishments in the county that sell single-serving drinks on premises bought more than $100,000 in liquor from the state, according to a report by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission. Seven of these 16 establishments cater specifically to University students.
Good Time Charley’s, which ranked at the top of the list, brought home more than $200,000 in liquor sales last year and showed a 6.6-percent increase over 2008.
Paul Drennan, general manager of Charley’s, attributed the bar’s big growth in liquor sales to the student population, which has continued to buy alcohol despite the recession.
“The students are one of those demographics that have a limited amount of disposable income,” Drennan said. “When they don’t have it they manage to find it and find a way to come in and have a good time.”
Drennan said that he has seen some customers hold back because they’re tight on spending money, but it hasn’t been an overall trend.
“We’ve noticed a little pinch in some of our guests’ spending habits,” he said.
While some have been pinching pennies, Charley’s customers haven’t adjusted their preferences to make buying a round cheaper, Drennan said.
“It’s still the same kind of mix between draft sales and liquor sales,” Drennan said.
But other local bars have noticed that customers’ drink choices are changing based on their costs.
Chris Hesse, owner and manager of Rick’s American Café, said the bar has definitely noticed a change in the types of sales at the bar.
“The liquor and the type of drink people are drinking are definitely the lower-end drink,” Hesse said. “We’ve found ourselves trying to special some of the higher-end drinks to keep them moving that we wouldn’t typically special.”
Due to a combination of the ailing economy, student preference and Rick’s specials, Hesse said beer sales have greatly increased at the café.
“Beer numbers have gone up for us dramatically in the last two years. Our bottles sales have increased, and our draft sales have decreased,” Hesse said, attributing this difference to a Rick’s promotion.
Statewide liquor retailers have also noticed a more acute change in the type of alcohol patrons purchased last year. Andrea Miller, spokeswoman for the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, said sales of less-expensive liquor have been increasing as customers are holding back because of the economy.
“What we found is that people are definitely still buying liquor, they just weren’t buying anymore top-shelf liquor,” Miller said. “The cheaper, bottom-shelf, second-shelf liquors were just selling more.”
Lorin Brace, manager of Village Corner, said most of the store’s expensive liquors have still sold, except for top-shelf scotch. But overall, Brace said Village Corner’s profits have been steady.
“There hasn’t really been any difference,” Brace said. “People still buy liquor.”