Such benefits, experts say, can make up for the hassles associated with selling alcohol, including obtaining liquor licenses and carding customers.
Walgreens and Family Dollar both said their alcohol decisions were driven more by customer demand than by any specific desire to compensate for recession-battered sales. Family Dollar's Braverman noted that the discount chain's earnings were up in the last fiscal year, while Walgreens said that the pharmacy chain began mulling the alcohol idea in early 2008, before the worst of the recession had hit.
Walgreens had sold alcohol since the end of Prohibition in the 1930s and eventually grew to become the largest alcohol seller in the U.S., Walgreens spokesman Robert Elfinger said. But by the 1990s, the chain decided to stop selling beer and wine at most of its stores and focus on other products, such as cosmetics.
Technology that will make selling alcohol less labor-intensive -- for instance, cash registers that remind cashiers to card consumers -- along with changes in customer preferences are what's bringing Walgreens back into the fold.
"We want to offer more of a one-stop shopping customer experience," Elfinger said. "We think moderate beer and wine consumption has really become more of the American mainstream and we believe there's a lot of customer demand for it."
Whatever their reasoning, their timing is good, Brager said.
Alcohol "isn't recession-proof, but it is somewhat recession-resilient," he said. "When times are good, people drink. When times are bad, people also drink."