Kentucky might be a “Bible Belt” state. But right now, church sanctuaries largely are closed to the public while liquor stores are open.

“If they can’t get it, and they’re sitting at home with their people, that could turn into a bad situation,” Mark Smith of Madisonville said Tuesday.

Smith was entering the Spirit Shoppe on Briarwood Drive to buy vodka for his son. That store remains open while many other Hopkins County retailers are closed to protect against the coronavirus.

Liquor stores may be the most eyebrow-raising exception to Gov. Andy Beshear’s Sunday order shutting “nonessential businesses” to walk-in customers. But for a longtime employee of the Spirit Shoppe, it’s not a complete surprise.

“Yes and no,” Felicia Cotton said. “There’s people out there that need this.”

Needed because, in Cotton’s words, life under the threat of COVID-19 has made everything crazy.

“When you think about it, sometimes it becomes an essential,” she said. “Even though people see basics as food, water, clothing, shelter... sometimes liquor becomes an essential to other people, just to be able to get through the chaos.”

The surprised people include the President of the Hopkins County Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“Interesting times,” Libby Spencer said Tuesday.

Cotton said business has “dramatically increased” in the last couple of weeks, as COVID-19 restrictions have tightened. She thinks some people are scared that Kentucky bourbon could become scarce, as trucking companies get busy shipping other goods and distillers switch to producing hand sanitizer.

Co-worker Joe Childers is happy to still help those customers.

“I’m glad that during this crazy time... we’re able to provide a service to the people for what they’re going through,” he said.

It may seem like social media humor to some. But Childers said it can be stressful for children to stay home all day with their parents.

“You’ve got to be able to control your nerves and relax,” Childers said.

But Cotton added some customers have been able to laugh about it all. She mentioned one common comment.

“I’ve got to have something if I’m going to be home, sitting with everybody. I’ve got to have something to stay sane,” Cotton said.

And yes, people still are buying Corona beer in a time of coronavirus.

“No more than usual,” Childers noted.

When it comes to the shuttered Hopkins County businesses, Spencer was optimistic Tuesday.

“For the first time, I’m starting to hear hope and positive messages from our members,” she said.

That’s in part because business owners are finding ways to innovate, such as curbside and delivery service.

Spencer added that her office in downtown Madisonville is open for business owners to copy and scan loan applications to the Small Business Administration.

A free webinar for small business owners is planned at noon today, to share information and ideas. LegalShieldZoom.com will host the online conference. More information is available from Bill McReynolds at 270-836-9097.

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