Alcohol Sales in Ohio: History, Rules & COVID-19

Alcohol sales in Ohio have changed over the years, but 2020 was a particularly monumental year. With mandatory curfews and restrictions on in-person dining, bars and restaurants were simply unable to serve customers in the same way. Keep reading to learn more about the history of alcohol sales in Ohio, how rules have changed and how COVID-19 impacted regulations and the industry. 

Ohio is one of seventeen “control” states. This means that the sale of distilled spirits is controlled by the local government. In some control states, alcohol is only sold at designated package stores that are operated by government agencies. In Ohio, you can purchase beer, wine and liquor at grocery stores and other retail locations, but the state regulates the number of alcohol permits.

History of Alcohol Sales in Ohio

Alcohol sales in Ohio are overseen by The Division of Liquor Control. This agency controls all aspects of alcohol manufacturing, distribution, regulation, licensing and merchandising. Historically, the division has operated using state-run warehouses and all stock was the property of the state. In 1983, the state changed to a bailment system and in 1991 all state-owned stores were changed to private businesses known as Contract Liquor Agencies. In 2013, JobsOhio Beverage System (JOBS) was awarded exclusive franchise rights that gave them control of the sale and distribution of liquor throughout the state. 

Once JOBS took over, they began implementing a series of initiatives to modernize the entire system. New planning software and a logistics infrastructure were introduced as part of the Liquor Modernization Project. In 2018, JOBS decided to make products more accessible and try to accelerate economic growth by allowing 25 new Agencies to open their doors. 

Blue Laws in Ohio

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, many states implemented Blue Laws, which ban certain activities on Sundays. For most of Ohio’s history, alcohol sales were prohibited on Sundays. The government eventually decided to allow sales after 1:00 PM, based on the assumption that most church services had ended by that time of day. In 2000, then governor Bob Taft endorsed a law that allowed alcohol to be sold at sports arenas starting at 11:00 am. 

COVID-19 and Alcohol Sales in Ohio

In July 2020, the Ohio Liquor Control Commission passed an emergency rule to limit how late bars could stay open while also making provisions to support the off-premise sales. While many bar and restaurant owners objected to the changes, the Commission and Governor Mike DeWine saw it as a necessary step to try and protect public health and safety and limit contact. The new rule required bars and restaurants to stop serving alcohol at 10pm. Customers were given until 11pm to finish their drink. 

In November 2020, the order expired and was replaced by a curfew that lasted from 11pm to 5am. On February 11, 2021, all restrictions were lifted and alcohol sales in Ohio were allowed to return to normal. Governor DeWine attributed the change to the fact that COVID-19 hospitalizations were able to stay under 2,500 for seven days. If numbers continue to decline, businesses won’t have to worry about more restrictions in the future. 

As with most states, alcohol sales in Ohio experienced a significant shift from bars and restaurants to individuals. In 2020, residents bought 16.75 million gallons of alcohol compared to 15.25 million in 2019 and 14.66 million gallons in 2018. While an increase in sales doesn’t translate directly into an increase in consumption, it is clear that limiting food and alcohol to take-out only changed the way people bought and consumed alcohol. 

Now that restrictions have been lifted and people are able to return to bars and restaurants, it remains to be seen how Ohioans will react. People may take a more cautious approach and continue to stay home or there may be a surge in business as people deal with lockdown fatigue. It will be interesting to see whether business shifts back to bars and restaurants or people stick with off-premise consumption habits during 2021. 

For more about alcohol sales and liquor laws in other states, check out our articles linked below.

FAQs

Is Ohio a control state? 

Yes, Ohio is one of seventeen control states. 

What is the history of alcohol rules in Ohio? 

In 1983, Ohio adopted a bailment system and in 1991, the state started to change all its stores to privately owned Contract Liquor Agencies. In 2013, JobsOhio Beverage System was given franchise rights and began modernizing the entire system. 

When did Blue Laws end in Ohio? 

In 2000, alcohol sales were permitted in sports arenas starting at 11am and alcohol could be bought in stores at 1pm.

Did they stop alcohol sales in Ohio?

No, bars and restaurants were required to stop selling alcohol at 10pm, but sales were never completely stopped.

How did COVID-19 affect alcohol sales in Ohio?

Alcohol sales shifted from bars and restaurants to consumers. Overall, sales went up as people started consuming off-premise. 

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