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Oregon Liquor Control Commission reports record sales -- $66 million -- even while bars and eateries can't serve liquor.

FILE PHOTO - Bottles of bourbon line the shelves at Stein Distillery's tasting room in Progress Ridge TownSquare in Beaverton.Last call rang out more than a month ago, but the global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus hasn't stopped Oregonians from hitting the bottle — hard.

The state's alcohol agency reports that Oregon liquor stores sold nearly $66 million in distilled spirits this March, roughly a 20% increase compared to the same time frame last year.

In turn, sales by establishments with liquor licenses were cut in half in March, dropping to $6.4 million, compared with $13.7 million this time last year.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission claims the uptick is likely due to a change in the manner of consumption, rather than a rise in drinking overall. Specifically, Gov. Kate Brown ordered establishments to go take-out only on March 16 — just before St. Patrick's Day — ending the consumption of liquor or beer inside bars.

Off-site sales rules were relaxed, allowing for curbside pickup of beer, wine and hard cider — but not the stronger stuff.

"These numbers may be alarming to those concerned about alcohol dependency, but it reflects the shift in consumption, not an increase in consumption," said OLCC Executive Director Steve Marks.

Marks says the OLCC's warehouse in Milwaukie shipped 367,563 cases of spirits in March, but that may change as bars start returning unused product. At least 94 watering holes have returned half a million in unsold liquor so far.

"Despite operating with less staff, and being open shorter hours, the combined efforts of liquor store agents are continuing to provide service," said Marks, "while also generating an important source of revenue for the state during a time of limited economic activity."

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