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April 15, 2020

Pennsylvanians desperately seeking alcohol now being turned away in Ohio, too

After scores of Pennsylvania residents had been crossing into Ohio to buy liquor during the coronavirus crisis, Ohio’s governor is implementing a new restriction to stop sales to out-of-staters. 

Gov. Mike DeWine is prohibiting the in-person sale of liquor to Pennsylvania residents in the six counties in his state closest to the Pennsylvania border, he said Monday. Liquor stores located in Ashtabula, Trumbull, Mahoning, Columbiana, Jefferson and Belmont will only be allowed to sell to customers with Ohio ID’s from now on, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported this week.

RELATED: Pennsylvania to expand online liquor sales by using Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores

Pennsylvanians' exodus into neighboring states, searching of alcohol, began when all the state-run liquor stores closed on March 16 due to the coronavirus. Restrictions enacted by Gov. Tom Wolf shut down all non-essential and non-life-sustaining businesses, including the Fine Wine & Good Spirits shops.

As a result, Pennsylvania residents have been increasingly shopping in neighboring states like Ohio, Delaware and New Jersey, but not before crashing the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board's online shopping site, which still only has the capacity to handle a limited number of orders per day.

In Delaware, Gov. John Carney had imposed coronavirus-related travel restrictions earlier this month, stopping out-of-state motorists from entering Delaware except for work and essential business. The Delaware State Police even put troopers at the Total Wine store in Claymont to turn away out-of-state shoppers. Even before the coronavirus outbreak, the store was a popular destination to buy tax-free booze for Pennsylvanians living nearby in Delaware County and Philadelphia.

Liquor store owners in Ohio noticed Pennsylvania residents coming to their stores more often since the coronavirus pandemic, noting out-of-state travelers by their license plates. Devine Shop and Save in Hubbard, Ohio, told The New York Post that their sales skyrocketed, and 95% of their customers were from Pennsylvania. 

"Our usual delivery is 120 cases in a week," Devine store manager Linda Johnson told the Post. "We’ve had 800 cases over the last two weeks, and I still have empty shelves."

Now to buy alcohol in those six Ohio counties, people will need to show state ID, active military ID, proof of a state address by presenting mail or bills or a letter showing that they are an essential state worker in Ohio, according to News5.

DeWine said the new rule aims to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by limiting the amount of out-of-state residents flooding his state's stores and therefore limiting crowds and making it easier to practice social distancing.

"Any other time, we would like to have visitors from Pennsylvania,” DeWine said at Monday's press conference, announcing the liquor sales restrictions, "but during this time, those who come to buy alcohol create a health hazard."

There are many more cases of coronavirus in Pennsylvania than DeWine's own state. In Ohio, there are 7,280 cases of coronavirus reported and 324 deaths. By comparison, Pennsylvania currently has reported 25,591 cases and 746 deaths. As of Tuesday, there were roughly 1,140 new cases in Pa. Daily updates for Pennsylvania state cases are posted here.

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