In the wake of a pandemic slowdown, the booze and the money are once again flowing in downtown Austin.
Data provided to CultureMap by the Downtown Austin Alliance shows bars, restaurants, and other establishments in the heart of the city sold a little over $40.8 million worth of alcohol in March and $40.75 million in April. Buoyed by a back-in-person SXSW, the March total set a monthly record for downtown Austin, with the April total just shy of that record.
Through the first four months of this year, sales of booze at downtown locations exceeded $131 million. The tally includes beer, wine, and mixed drinks.
The Downtown Austin Alliance compiled the figures using data from the Texas comptroller’s office. The state agency collects taxes paid on alcohol sold throughout the state.
The eye-popping tallies for booze sales this March and April are a vast improvement over the numbers for the same months in 2020 and 2021, during the height of the pandemic.
Last year, for instance, downtown alcohol sales totaled $19.5 million in March and $23.8 million in April. For March 2020, the total approached $11.7 million. But sales plummeted the following month, officially the first full month of the pandemic, to a little over $355,000.
For the same months in the pre-pandemic year of 2019, downtown booze sales shot past $36.3 million in March and exceeded $27.9 million in April.
Dating back to at least 2017, March — the month when Austin hosts SXSW — historically has been the top month for alcohol sales in downtown Austin, according to the alliance’s data analysis.
Jenell Moffett, associate vice president of strategic initiatives at the Downtown Austin Alliance, says this spring’s numbers for alcohol sales in downtown Austin suggest that the tourism sector is bouncing back to pre-pandemic levels.
The alcohol sales figures and other data demonstrate “that people are looking to make up for the activities they weren’t able to participate in for the last few years,” Moffett says. “It could also be an indication that there are now even more reasons for people to visit downtown, both locals and tourists, for activities where alcoholic beverages would be involved.”
She cites the recent debut of major venues like the Moody Center on the University of Texas campus and the Moody Amphitheater at Waterloo Park as a factor in spurring both local residents and tourists to visit downtown Austin.
“Tourism in Austin slowed during the pandemic,” Moffett says, “and we saw a dramatic impact to downtown.”