Monday, March 30, 2015

Liquor Measles

In the United States, each of the 50 states controls sales of alcoholic beverages.  Hence, you have a collection of conflicting laws for the sales and even consumption of alcohol.

One of the (sometimes) pleasures of travel is seeing some of those different laws in action.

My resident state of New York, for example, does not allow sales of either wine or liquor (hard spirits) in supermarkets.  Beer is sold in supermarkets and groceries.  Wine and liquor are sold in liquor stores (wineries can also sell their own wine).  A person can only own one liquor store, so there are no chain liquor stores in New York State (although people are trying to get around that in imaginative ways beyond the scope of this blog.)

In the neighboring state of Pennsylvania, wine and spirits are sold through state run liquor stores.

And then there is South Carolina, where I am vacationing.
When you visit South Carolina, you will think certain stores will have broken out in measles.

Here's the sign showing the full name of the store. (& more?  Well, bear with me here.)
Here's another store.

By now, you may be wondering why all liquor stores in South Carolina have broken out in measles.  Well, it dates back to 1945 when South Carolina changed a law concerning signage permitted for liquor stores to prohibit advertising.  They decided not to permit liquor stores to have signs with letters more than six inches high and four inches wide.  Bigger than that and you would have an advertisement for liquor.  So, what to do (other than own super magnifying glasses?)

An enterprising sign man in Charleston was hired to do a sign for a Charleston liquor store owner.  He painted large red dots around the letters to highlight them.

It caught on at a time when liquor stores were called "ABC" stores (three red dots needed) for Alcohol Beverage Commission stores.   South Carolina may have had state run liquor stores at one time (I didn't research that).

But now, the three red dots are just plain custom.   And those dots are so easy to see when you are driving in a strange place. (Thank you, South Carolina!)

There's another theory, too, involving an older law prohibiting liquor sales between sundown and sunup but I like the "large red dot around the letters" theory.

Oh, and one other thing.  That Total Wine & More above, in Charleston?  The wine/beer part, and the liquor part, have to have two separate entrances and they do (once you enter the main entrance).  But they are a chain, and they operate quite nicely.  The beer and wine part even sells food, including mixers, crackers and cheese.  And, oh yes, T-Shirts from local breweries.

Something they could never, ever, do in New York State because all liquor stores can sell is - well, liquor and wine.  No food. No T-Shirts.

Does your area have special liquor laws (including prohibiting sales)?


  1. Interesting. I hadn't noticed that there was no wine in supermarkets in NYC. However, my daughter sometimes just gets it delivered to her house!

    Washington State used to sell wine and beer in supermarkets, but had state-run liquor stores for hard liquor. They were voted out a few years back and the state shut down the stores, and now everything can be bought in supermarkets.

    Then there are the differing laws for serving Washington State, restaurants must have a separate "bar" area to serve hard liquor alone without food, or if they want to do that everywhere, they have to be open to 21+-year-olds only.

    I found it interesting that in New York, you can serve alcohol or be a bartender at 18! Definitely 21 in Washington State. My daughter took a bartending course when she moved to NYC at 19 and I was surprised that was legal. (She has not really used the skill, but she did get the license.)

  2. Hehe. Here in the UK, supermarkets sell all sorts of alcohol. Takes up a large floor area.
    I remember the time in Australia when aboriginals had to buy their wine from their own little window at the back of the pub. Also, the women had to sit in the 'ladies lounge'.
    Times change. They've gone overboard here in the UK. Prices are so cheep in stores, everybody's boycotting the pubs.

    1. Thank you for a UK point of view. I didn't know any of these things-that is what I love about blogging, learning about things from all over the world.

  3. a contender for "Best Blog Post Title Ever!" and interesting info - wonder if my kids in SC know about the 3 red dots' history?

    1. I hope this is the correct history - if your SC family has a different story, please let me know!

  4. Hi Alana,

    Interesting post :) Thanks for sharing your thoughts :)

  5. So funny - liquor measles! And, the red dots train us to know right off what is going on! Love it! Fun post :)

    1. Thank you. I don't want to sound like a "drinking woman" (still smile when I think of someone in North Carolina who asked me that, to make sure she wasn't offending me with suggesting a wine I might want to try) but those three red dots are such a good thing for people not familiar with an area.


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