Study: Craft distillers see sales evaporate amid pandemic

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — For five months, no rum has flowed for visitors at Jaime Windon's distillery in Maryland, drying up a crucial part of her revenue stream. Windon's tasting room remains shuttered by the coronavirus, another victim of the pandemic's devastating impact on the world economy.

Like other craft distillers, Windon Distilling relied heavily on sales from people who ventured in to learn a bit about making spirits, sample the products and take home a bottle or two. But small, independent producers — who have carved out a sizable niche in the country's spirits sector — have been hit hard by the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a new study.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States found that nationally, craft distillers will see an estimated 41% of their sales — worth more than $700 million — evaporate because of the pandemic.

The distillers furloughed nearly one-third of their employees, its study estimated.

Windon, whose flagship brand is Lyon Rum, had no revenue coming in at the end of March at the distillery she founded seven years ago on Maryland's Eastern Shore. She furloughed most of her staff but has since brought back most of her full-time workers, though she’s only staffed at 50% with the tasting room still closed. She could reopen the tasting room — which had averaged about 500 visitors per week — but has chosen not to in part because of space restrictions.

“If people would have told me at the beginning of this year that I would have to close my tasting room for five months, I would have told you we would go out of business,” Jaime Windon said in an interview.

She's stayed afloat thanks to her wholesale business, having developed a strong core business in Maryland and a broader distribution network that reaches eight other states.

“We’re able to produce," Windon said. “But we don’t meet the hundreds of people a week in our distillery like we used to. That’s the hardest hit and it’s the biggest change for us.”