The Margin: St. Patrick’s Day buzzkill: Coronavirus cancels celebrations, hits bars and restaurants hard

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Everyone’s Irish — sorry, make that isolated — on this St. Patrick’s Day.

The celebrations honoring the patron saint of Ireland are much more subdued this year due to the coronavirus. Parades and festivities have been canceled from Dublin to Boston over the past few weeks as COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. And several states including California, Washington, Ohio, Illinois, New York and Massachusetts have closed bars, restaurants and wineries for the foreseeable future (or limited them to take-out or delivery only) to help promote social distancing to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

That’s some right bad luck for the bar and restaurant industry, in particular, which count on March 17 to be a pot of gold. Indeed, Nielsen reported last year that St. Patrick’s Day is the highest grossing day of the year for U.S. bars and restaurants, with beer sales up 174% on the date in 2018 compared to an average day, and spirits sales some 153% higher.

Nielsen noted that Chicago, in particular, stands to lose a lot from being largely shut down on St. Patrick’s Day. According to Nielsen’s most recent data, on-premise establishments in Chicago (which include small neighborhood bars, Irish pubs, restaurants and nightclubs) made $8,287 in beer sales alone on average in 2018 — or 221% higher than the previous Saturday.

Some 18% of adults reported that they had been laid off or that their work hours had been cut in the wake of the coronavirus, according to a new Marist poll. And that survey was conducted on Friday and Saturday, before restaurants, bars, nightclubs, gyms, concert venues and many other nonessential gathering places shut down or switched to take-out or delivery only in the New York Tri-State Area.

The National Retail Federation reported that more than half of adults (56%) had planned to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year, with more than one in four (28%) intending to belly up to a bar or restaurant for a party, and 15% looking forward to attending a parade. The NRF estimated that St. Patrick’s Day spending was expected to hit a record $6.16 billion this year, or $42.96 per person. It remains to be seen just how much the coronavirus has impacted that spending; many bars and restaurants were still open and hosting St. Patrick’s Day parties over the weekend, for example, since the holiday falls on a Tuesday this year.

A spokesperson for the NRF told MarketWatch by email that “we don’t know how long this will last, and it may be several months before it will be possible to assess the consequences of the virus.” The NRF also warned that “not every retailer will be well suited to weather this storm for weeks or months.”

Adding insult to injury for many consumers on Tuesday, six-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady announced that he’s ending his 20-year career with the New England Patriots. And many Irish fans in New England states took the St. Patrick’s Day departure personally.

Still, some people aren’t letting social isolation keep them from marking the celebratory day. Many have taken to social-media sites like Twitter TWTR, +2.33%   and the Facebook-owned Instagram FB, +1.71% to share their St. Patrick’s Day parties under social isolation.

And the International Space Station showed this breathtaking view of the Emerald Isle from the Earth’s orbit.

Stay safe everyone, and stay up-to-date with the latest on the coronavirus by reading MarketWatch’s coverage here. Slainte.

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