The number of bottle shops is now outstripping pubs across NSW with hundreds of online businesses springing up to slake the thirst of stay-at-home drinkers.
Three years ago there were 88 more pub licences in NSW than there are today.
Matthew Ivory and Dan Farrenc from the online business halfbottles.com.au, which was run out of Bellevue Hill bottle shop. Photo: Edwina Pickles
But patrons have more options to buy booze than ever before, data released to Fairfax Media by Liquor & Gaming NSW shows, with about 1000 bottle shop licences being granted in NSW since 2008, while about 100 pubs have closed, many in regional towns, such as Broken Hill and Grafton.
As country towns fall on hard times, local pubs are closing and "very few new hotels" have opened in the past 50 years, an Australian Hotels Association spokesman said.
The most valuable asset of many outback watering holes is their poker machine entitlements. Licences to run pokies are often bought in blocks of three for about $350,000 with two licences taken to the city, and one returned to the NSW government, veteran hotel broker, Peter Manenti of Manenti Quinlan & Associates, told Fairfax Media.Advertisement
David Berger and Nathan Besser are co owners of alcohol delivery service Jimmy Brings, that started in eastern Sydney in 2012 and now delivers to the north shore and inner west. Photo: Sasha Woolley
Mr Manenti has specialised in brokering sales of pubs, motels and liquor stores for 36 years in NSW.
"What's happened to country outpost hotels is that they have closed after pocketing this money [from pokie entitlement sales] and because the local real estate is not worth much, they handed the [hotel] licence back," Mr Manenti said.
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"Also in many regional areas, clubs have grown and become more powerful and pushed out hotels."
The City of Sydney area has the most pub licences in NSW with 344 but there were 14 fewer licences in January 2018 than there were in January 2015. The inner-west suburb of Leichhardt has four fewer pub licences than 2015, with many other Sydney postcodes also recording declines.
"Inner-west hotels would have sold some of their machine entitlements and in some cases the property value is greater than the operating assets of the hotel so it is then redeveloped into other uses such as apartments," Mr Manenti said. "Some of them have also been compulsory acquisitions by the state government."
Streaming services such as Netflix and social media now offer entertainment that may be hurting the traditional business that pubs received from young people who now meet potential lovers and friends at home or online via apps like Tinder and Facebook.
Professor in the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Newcastle Kypros Kypri said the growth of bottle shops "reflects changing patterns of socialisation" and may be partly driven by social media.
The Palace Hotel in Broken Hill in 1944. There are four fewer hotel licences Broken Hill than there were a few years ago. Photo: Staff
"This trend may connect with another broader trend, because youth drinking is falling in many high income countries including Australia," Professor Kypri said. "One hypothesis is that people are socialising less face to face in part because of social media."
The main driver of the trend is likely to be economic as prices at pubs have risen, while costs at a bottlos remain low.
"Bottle shops have proliferated as licensing has become much easier for them and the stores are bigger and they compete strongly, so prices are lower relative to income than they have been ever," Professor Kypri said.
"[Online stories] remove a barrier to physical access," he said. "The easier it is, the more likely I'm going to buy it. And there's good evidence for this … peoples' consumption and the harms they experience is related to how close they are to licensed premises."
At a "certain level of licence density", there is a correlation between packaged liquor outlets and domestic assault, Dr Michael Livingston found in a 2008 longitudinal analysis of alcohol outlet density and assault in Melbourne.
Liquor Stores Association NSW & ACT executive director Michael Waters said that is not the case as Australians drink less alcohol per capita now, than in the past 50 years.
In the 1970s Australians' per capita drinking steadily increased to 13.1 litres of pure alcohol per person over 15 in 1974-75 but recently it has been relatively stable at about 10 litres, which is roughly two stubbies of VB per person every day.
"This steady decline has been long-term and continued during a period when there has been competitive promotional activity, combined with an overall increase in the number of liquor licences, dispelling the myth that increased availability of alcohol beverages increases the amount consumed," Mr Waters said.
But there are still risky drinkers in Australia and between one in five and one in six adults are drinking at levels that are considered hazardous by the WHO, Professor Kypri said.
Sam Skoulis, manager of the Lick Her Here bottle shop. Photo: Peter Rae
Online-only retailers are the "vast majority" of new packaged liquor licences since 2008, Mr Waters said.
Of roughly 2500 liquor licences in NSW for bottle shops and online retailers, about 14 per cent are "online only". In 2012, they made up about 9 per cent.
"We know that a significant proportion of these licences are not active or trading," Mr Waters said. "Interestingly we are seeing that a similar number enter and exit the market from one year to the next."
Co-owner of Jimmy Brings Nathan Besser said their on-demand alcohol delivery business was the first in Australia and is experiencing compound growth of at about 10 to 15 percent each month.
"Our busiest time is between 6 and 8pm and the average consumer is about 30," Mr Besser said. "We haven't felt the impact of competitors as yet and we welcome the competition as it's a growing market.
The other area bottle shops are popping up is in supermarkets or stores owned by the major chains: Aldi, IGA, Coles and Woolworths.