Coronavirus

New Hampshire rolls out curbside pickup at 2 popular liquor stores ahead of Memorial Day weekend

The limited pilot program comes amid concerns about workers' exposure to the coronavirus.

Part of the interior of the large and airy New Hampshire State Liquor Store at the Hooksett Tolls Rest Area on the northbound side of Route 93 is pictured. Jim Davis/Globe Staff

New Hampshire has begun offering curbside pickup at two of its most popular liquor stores ahead of Memorial Day weekend, as officials gradually roll back restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus.

E.J. Powers, a spokesman for the New Hampshire Liquor Commission, confirmed Saturday that the agency is piloting limited hours of both curbside and in-store pickup at their Hampton location off I-95 northbound and their Hooksett location on I-93 northbound.

Orders must be placed at least one day ahead through the commission’s website, where customers can browse wine and spirits selection and pick a 15-minute time slot for pickup at either outlet between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Orders, which must be a minimum of two bottles, can also be reserved up to two weeks in advance.

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“This is a limited pilot program designed to test the system and service and inform future decisions,” Powers told Boston.com in an email, stressing that same-day pickup is not an option.

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The pilot, which was first reported Saturday by NHPR, comes amid concerns about liquor store employees’ exposure to the contagious disease.

Just like in Massachusetts, the Granite State’s liquor stores have remained open during the pandemic — ostensibly with increased cleaning and social distancing measures in place. Off-premise alcohol sales have also surged nationally this spring, amid stay-at-home orders and restaurant and bar closures due to the virus.

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As the Union Leader reported in March, the New Hampshire Liquor Commission began considering allowing curbside pick shortly after the state’s dining ban was announced. Similar to what that grocery stores have offered, officials said the model could limit in-store lines and crowding. Some liquor store workers reportedly told NHPR at the time that curbside pick would mitigate their worries.

New Hampshire has avoided the worst of the pandemic, with 3,464 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 159 deaths due to the disease.

But as the state begins to reopen, it’s not just Granite Staters with whom liquor stores are contending.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has expressed concerns that out-of-state visitors from hard-hit places, particularly Massachusetts, could bring the disease over the border. And during summer holidays, the state’s tax-free liquor outlets are a routine stop for travelers driving headed up to vacation homes in the Lakes Region or Maine.

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Of the state’s more than 80 liquor outlets, the chosen Hampton and Hooksett stores — both located directly off interstate highways en route to popular tourist destinations — recorded the second and seventh most sales, respectively, during the 2019 fiscal year. However, as Americans across the country are urged to limit travel in the midst of the pandemic, Powers says those two locations have been less busier than usual, making them fitting locations for the curbside pilot.

“Customer traffic has been slower at those locations enabling staff to fulfill orders and both offer a location convenient for shoppers in two distinct parts of the state,” Powers said.

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New Hampshire isn’t the first state to try out curbside pickup at liquor stores during the pandemic; Pennsylvania began offering it as an option at nearly all of its state-controlled outlets last month. However, the initiative was geared more toward in-state residents than travelers.

For their part, officials in New Hampshire aren’t necessarily welcoming out-of-state customers either. Sununu has cited his worries about Bay Staters spreading the disease for why he has kept the state’s beaches and restaurants closed. Earlier this week, AAA predicted that this Memorial Day weekend travel volume “is likely to set a record low,” due to the pandemic.

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“Now is not the time to be inviting or enticing folks out of Massachusetts to come up and either recreate or vacation up here in New Hampshire,” Sununu said earlier this month.

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