Walgreens to add booze to local wares

It may not be what the doctor ordered, but Walgreens intends to start selling beer and wine again at its 63 drugstores in the Las Vegas Valley.

It will be the first time since the 1990s that the drugstore chain has sold beer and wine at most of its stores around the country.

"We're responding to customer demand," Walgreens spokesman Robert Elfinger said. "Our customers want one-stop shopping. In moderation, these products have been part of the American mainstream."

Walgreens never stopped selling beer and wine in Arizona, New Mexico and part of Florida.

Elfinger said he didn't know when Walgreens would start stocking beer and wine at stores in Southern Nevada because the timing may depend on zoning approval changes.

Walgreens will offer a variety of moderately priced domestic, foreign and even microbrew beers, along with wines, he said. It will not sell liquor as it did previously.

The company pulled alcoholic beverages from its stores in the 1990s because liquor sections became cumbersome and time-consuming for stores to manage, he said. Beer and wine will be less of a problem, partly thanks to technology.

In areas that restrict alcoholic-beverage sales after specified hours, cash register programs can be set to block those sales outside of legal hours, he said.

Beer and wine will take only 2 percent of the stores' shelf space. So Walgreens won't need to pull any products to make room for the beverages although it will reduce shelf space for some products displayed in stores, Elfinger said.

Grocery stores, other drugstore chains, convenience stores and liquor stores all compete in beer and alcohol sales. So a retail analyst doubted Walgreens' entry into the market would have much of an effect on competitors.

Nevada has about 2,400 convenience stores, said Peter Krueger, state executive of the Nevada Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association.

"I think you could make a case that the market is well-served," Krueger said. "At what point do we have enough?"

Beer and wines have "adequate margins" unlike gasoline, he said, but candy and soda give convenience store owners their biggest profit margins.

Alcoholic beverages appear to be recession-proof. If people drink alcohol to celebrate during good times, some suggest they drink to drown their sorrows during hard times.

The Nevada Department of Taxation reported alcoholic beverage tax revenues increased by 12.8 percent during the first quarter of the calendar year when compared with the same period last year. Statewide liquor tax collections totaled $8.7 million in the first three months of this year, compared with $7.7 million a year ago.

Beer consumption in gallons remained about the same during the first quarter.

Contact reporter John G. Edwards at jedwards@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0420.