Demand crashed Vinmonopolet site

Thirsty, holiday-bound Norwegians were so curious about the opening hours at Norway’s state wine and liquor store chain, Vinmonopolet, on Wednesday that their heavy traffic to the monopoly’s website ended up crashing it. Vinmonopolet’s restricted opening hours may be liberalized somewhat next year.

Until 1999, customers had to purchase all their wine and liquor from behind a counter. No longer. PHOTO: Vinmonopolet

An earlier law also restricted customers’ access to Vinmonopolet inventory, forcing them to order over a counter. It was repealed in 1999, and customers are now free to roam the aisles. PHOTO: Vinmonopolet

Wednesday was the last day to stock up on wine, strong beers and liquor before the state-controlled stores closed for Norway’s annual five-day Easter holiday. Thursday, Friday and Monday are legal holidays in Norway, and an old law that’s been on the books for years also prevents Vinmonopolet from opening on the day before Easter Sunday.

That means Norwegians won’t be able to buy alcoholic beverages in Norway until Tuesday next week, leading to the rush of traffic on Wednesday both to Vinmonopolet’s website and the stores themselves. Halvor Bing Lorentzen, communications director for Vinmonopolet, said the state liquor chain expected sales on Wednesday to be twice what they normally are on a Saturday, even though the stores closed early, at 3pm instead of the normal 6pm.

“The reason for the heavy traffic to the website is because so many wanted to check the opening hours before Easter,” Lorentzen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “Easter is like Christmas,” he added, because there are many days in a row when the stores, under state law, must remain closed. “Folks tend to buy a lot before Vinmopolet closes.”

The strict opening hours, part of legislative attempts to discourage alcohol consumption in Norway, may be eased a bit next year. The conservative, free-market-oriented Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) has proposed amending the law against opening on the day before Easter Sunday and three other holidays: Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Whitsund, known as pinse in Norway.

“There’s no good political basis for ordering Vinmonopolet to close on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Even and the days before Easter and Whitsund,” Thomas Breen, a Member of Parliament, for the Labour Party, told newspaper Aftenposten. His party nonetheless voted against Frp’s proposal to the  parliament’s health committee because it hadn’t gone through a round of hearings and lacked adequate judicial wording, he said, but Labour is likely to back a refined proposal next year.

The Conservative and Liberal parties supported the Progress Party’s initiative, and the Socialist Left party (SV) also is in favour of allowing the liquor stores to open on four more days next year. Only the Christian Democrats and some factions within the Center Party are opposed.

That means this was likely the last year when Vinmonopolet will be closed for so long, something which Breen admitted creates “irritation and frustration” among many Norwegians. It also prompts thousands of Norwegians to head over the border to Sweden, where opening hours are more liberal.

The Progress Party stated in its proposal that it was motivated by “common sense and respect for the country’s citizens,” and that current restrictions were “ripe for modernization.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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