Even during the ongoing, unprecedented coronavirus pandemic, some people still want to have the ability to enjoy an adult beverage with their favorite food and snacks, said one local business owner.
The owners of some Fort Smith-based businesses are helping to meet that demand by offering curbside and delivery services to their customers, said John Coats, who co-owns JKC Cellars with his wife, Kristie, in the Chaffee Crossing Historic District.
Like local restaurants, some wineries and liquor stores have shifted much of their focus to deliveries and "drive-up" customers over the last several days to serve customers and to help keep their own businesses above water.
"Many people are taking the coronavirus situation seriously; it’s really weird times right now," Coats said. "My son, Zach, wishes I would quit saying that, but yes, it is true. This is just a weird time right now."
Located at 7709 Ellis St., JKC Cellars is open 2-7 p.m. on Fridays, 12-7 p.m. on Saturdays, and 12-4 p.m. on Sundays until they can open as usual again.
"At JKC Cellars, we are allowing people to come into our business and purchase from us," Coats said. "I know the magic number is 10, as in people not being able to congregate in high numbers. We typically don’t have 10 people at once buying bottles here anyway.
"We mostly do glass sales at the winery; we've seen a decrease in sales since the pandemic started," he added. "Hopefully, these services will help keep us afloat."
Individuals interested in taking advantage of the curbside service offered by JKC Cellars can call (479) 922-9463 to use the curbside service or for bottle sales, Coats said.
JKC Cellars also has partnered with their neighbors at Fort Smith Brewing Co. to offer curbside service seven days a week. That partnership includes delivery options via the website, FortSmithBrewing.square.site, with these deliveries being made "straight to your doorsteps," the site states.
"The door-to-door sales gives customers the ability to stay safe at home and still enjoy the products they would normally enjoy, in order to make the transition to this new environment easier," said Quentin Willard, owner of Fort Smith Brewing Co. "Customers are able to carry on with life as much as possible, as well as businesses are able to keep their numbers high enough so that businesses won't need to take out additional debt when all of this settles."
Sales at Fort Smith Brewing Co. "are definitely different" and "typically lower" than sales prior to the pandemic, he said.
"A majority of our customers enjoy coming to the brewery not just for the great beer, but for the great atmosphere, as well," Willard said. "We'll never be able to replace the atmosphere, but where we can't replace the atmosphere, we're focusing heavily on service.
"We are delivering beers to customers' doorsteps in record time ... as well as working on a subscription service, so that customers' daily routines aren't interrupted," he added.
Local delivery services are preventing additional burdens being placed on customers, according to Willard.
"Fort Smith Brewing Co. is taking care of customers' beer needs so they may focus on other aspects of their livelihood," said Willard, whose company's best-sellers include Dat Nguyen Stout, Arkansas Commoner and Tequila Sunrise. "Allowing companies to deliver alcohol to people's doorsteps has lasting benefits. Our state has been marketing hard to keep drinking-and-driving activity down, and this is a sure-fire way to eliminate over half drinking-and-driving infractions."
Coats said he's thankful that beverage-based delivery services are available.
"Yes, this is all brand-new," he said. "The ability to do all of this was made possible by changes made through the governor’s office and the ABC (Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control) office … stating wineries and breweries can offer curbside service and deliveries.
"And we’ve definitely seen change, like there being a lot of local attention to restaurants," Coats added. "We want people to be careful, safe and healthy, of course, and to hopefully be able to still enjoy the food of their restaurant of choice with an adult beverage, if they choose."
For Coats, the threat of COVID-19 is more than just a threat to his family’s business.
"It's scary when you read about the people who have the virus," he said. "When you hear about the virus being in nursing homes, that is really scary. Older people seem to be more vulnerable to it, and that's frightening."
Coats said he remains optimistic that local, state and national health officials "will get a handle" on COVID-19 in the future.
"I think it’s going to go away, like most diseases do," he said. "But I really think that there will be some changes in people's behavior. Most restaurants already are offering curbside service, and I think people will continue to use that more.
"And people ordering things off the internet will stay up, so in a way, there will be a new normal later," Coats added. "But then there's the head-scratcher — how long is the virus going to go on?"
JKC Cellars' wine list features Miss Laura's Green Apple Riesling, Emily's Chardonnay, Baltz Bramble Blackberry Cabernet and Buffalog Float Raspberry Merlot, among others.