Monday, September 10, 2007

Unwrappin' the Mystery of the Package Store

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

A liquor store is the American and Canadian name for a type of convenience store which specializes in the sale of alcoholic beverages in the countries where its consumption is strongly regulated. In some parts of the US a liquor store is called a package store or "packie" for short. In alcoholic beverage control (ABC) states, package stores often sell only distilled spirits or sometimes sell distilled spirits and wine but not beer. ABC-run package stores may be called ABC stores. The term "package" derives from the fact that following the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, a political compromise was reached with leaders of the temperance movement whereby containers of alcoholic beverages could not legally be carried in public uncovered from view. Thus, stores that sold alcohol for consumption elsewhere wrapped or "packaged" them for their customers' convenience.

In the UK and Ireland the corresponding term is Off-licence, which may refer to a shop selling mostly alcohol, or to part of larger shop.

Okay my pretties! Several lovely non-Southerners responded with the correct answer (some after a bit of research. Y'all used your resources and edu-macated yourselves. Can't fault or disqualify you for that, can I?) to the package store conundrum. I'm pleased as (rum-spiked, in this case) punch!

Cori, you hit the nail on the head. Package store, because of the brown paper bags you sneak your purchase out in, originally because such was required by many states' laws, and today still because it would be indelicate to come trouncing out of the store into the daylight brandishing a bottle of far-water for all the world (or worse, the next door neighbor - GASP!) to see. Even if you are just buying the tiniest, most innocent little fifth of bourbon to soak the cheesecloth you're gonna wrap around the Christmas fruitcake, like my Mom used to do every year before she finally got sick of still eating fruitcake in May and all those Yuletide "booze-soaked doorstop" jokes my Dad thought were so funny. Okay, they were a little funny.

My Mom, however, would NOT actually set foot in the package store. EVER. She sent my father, under the cloak of darkness. "ROY! I need bourbon for the fruitcake. Wait'll after the sun sets and then sneak downda th' package store and get some and MAKE SURE NOBODY SEES YOU." This from the woman who has her own "Cold Duck" face - she loves her ONE TINY GLASS of Cold Duck on a special occasion (do they make Cold Duck anymore?) and sips it delicately, savoring the rich fizzy fruity goodness. Her lips poke out flatly. Sorta LIKE a duckbill, actually. Aaah... that's good stuff. Urp. QUACK!

One day the summer after Bean was born, we were up viz'tin Nana and Poppa and had the grandparents and Aunt and Uncle and cousins over for fresh hand-churned ice cream and poundcake on the back porch. After we'd churned the ice cream (starting with the womenfolk while the cream was still liquid and ending with the menfolk as it froze and got harder to turn, as time-honored family tradition dictates) and each indulged our sweet-teeth with a heapin' helpin', we sat ruminating in the shady heat of late afternoon and the subject of package stores came up. I can't recall how or why, I just recall the moment my Uncle, who, like all the other men on my Dad's side of the family (who would hasten to point out it's because the women on the other side of the family, to whom they're married, could talk the skin right off a half-ripened Gaffney peach), is a man of few words, spoke up.

Now, as Marie pointed out in the comments of the original Package Store Post, sometimes package stores go by the nickname Red Dot Stores. Purveyors of adult beverages in some alcoholic beverage control states (which are mostly located in the South) bore a large red circle on one or more exterior wall to indicate their contents. I couldn't find in my research exactly what the purpose of the red dot was, but I will give you my two theories: One - It showed the store was licensed and approved by the governing state's alcohol control board. Two - Mebbe 'cause Bubba and Skeeter love 'em a cocktail, but they cain't exac'ly read. Y'all be the judge.

Whatever the REAL reson, the red dot, sometimes more of a um... red amoeba or a mere faded cluster of assorted red jigsaw pieces, thanks to impingement of the infernal kudzu creeping up and over these buildings and well, everything else in its path from May to December, at an alarming rate, I might add, like faster than root growth after an expensive dye job er, "highlights," mean to us Southerners "they's booze in thar, y'all." And my Uncle Butch, as reputation would have it, is speculated to have frequented a red dot store with his boys ever' now and again back in the day, and he says, on that warm afternoon, with a barely audible chuckle that sounds EXACTLY like my Grandaddy's (his Dad) laugh, "When I was a kid, we used to call 'em The Japanese Embassy."

I don't want y'all to feel too bad about not knowing (those of you who didn't) what a package store is. Back in my wild single days (ha ha HA) my dear Midwestern friend Kim came down from Milwaukee to stay with me for a weekend shortly after I'd bought my first house. I picked her up at the airport and we sped through the city and out to the 'burbs, where we stopped to stow her things at my house and allow her to freshen up, and then we jumped back in the car to go, I explained, to the package store. Kim happily rode along with me, and we chattered and laughed as I drove, catching up on life. We arrived at the store and made our purchases and brought them out in their customary paper sacks. As we walked out to the car, Kim said, "Okay so now we just have to go mail off the packages and the we can go back to your place, mix up a few cocktails and sit outside and enjoy the weather and talk, right? Who are we mailing something to?" (I may be paraphrasing or I may be making the whole thing up, I can't be sure, it was about 5 years ago, see?)

"Huh? Mail off what packages?"

"You said we were going to UPS or Mailboxes Etc. or somewhere, I think, didn't you?"


"Yeah! The package store!"

"We just did."


"A package store is a (whispers) liquor store. That's we call 'em down here. Package stores."


  1. What an education I've gotten today! A little history, a little trivia. Should the subject of package stores ever come up again, this Northerner will know it all!
    PS - are you feeling better?

  2. What did I get out of this story? Drool running down my cheek at the thought of some Gaffney peaches!

  3. I was way off! Good to know. And what liquor do you put in your black-eyed peas?

  4. I feel so edu-macated. I had no idea.



  5. Thanks for the entertaining anecdotes. The next time someone asks me what a package store is, I'll know the answer. Although who would ask??

  6. And now I have learned something new. That is just so cute - Package Store has so much more cachet than my plain ol' liquour store.

  7. Pam - Yes, the peaches. Slurp. Lick your elbows good, every time.

    Carissa - OH YEAH, I forgot to say that I put Sweet Vermouth in the blackeyed peas. But it's only a little for flavoring and all the alcohol has cooked out long before we eat them.

  8. Growin up down yonder jus a hop, skip, ana jump from Megan, I can testify to the secrecy surroundin' the red dot store.

    Imagine my SHOCK when I moved to Ohio and discovered Drive-Thru alcohol stores! Yep. That's right. They're converted car washes. Drive in the back, tell the guy what you want, and he puts it in the car for you. Granted, these establishments were mostly for those last minute "b"-double-"e"-double-"r"-"u"-"n"s, but white liquors were also available.

    I could never figure out how on Earth that could possibly be legal- I mean, could you imagine anything that would encourage drinking and drinving more??

  9. Your friends reaction to the term 'package store' was kinda the way I reacted. A guy I worked with was leaving work at 10pm to go to his 2nd job at the package store. I asked, "what ups office is open at 10 o'clock at night?"

  10. Very good education on them thar package stores, I loved it.
    You must be feeling better to go all that trouble to splain..

  11. This is an old post, so you may miss this comment, but I was looking for the answer about the red dot and it comes down to advertising restrictions. Two good articles:

  12. I wanted to chime in this one, and it's only intended to help expand on your article (which was a very entertaining read, by the way). It is a common misconception that package stores get their name from the fact that they had to package your booze in brown bags to hide it from the public eye. So common that one could argue that even if not the true origin of the name, it probably is responsible for the continued use of the term "package store" to this day, as one generation passes it down to the next.

    But the actual name package store grew out of the term "original package store", which developed around the late 1800s. This term was coined after a 1890s Supreme Court case, Leisy vs Hardin, as know as the "Original Package Decision". The decision of the court was that "A State cannot regulate nor prohibit the sale in its original package, however large or small, of liquor...brought in from another state."

    Basically the ruling says (in english) that liquor is a commercial good subject to the same interstate trade laws as any other good or product, and no State has the right to single it out and tax it. States are not permitted to biasly tax interstate commerce coming in from other states, otherwise it would give the same in-state goods and services an unfair commercial advantage.

    This court case came about because some States were specifically targeting booze sales in this way as a means to regulate alcohol consumption. A lot of bible thumping was going on back then and if they could tax the booze out of existence it was serving the greater good. After the court's ruling, liquor stores in those States started refering to themselves as "Original-Package" stores as a means of emphasizing to the tax max that the goods they were selling (sweet sweet hooch) were still in their original package, and therefore the State can go stick it.

  13. Whether accurate or not, I found your article hilarious! I love a good read. Was Googling around wondering about the origin of the term for what we here in the Northeast also call a "packie" - the full term being "packidge stawh" lol!

  14. Package Stores are actually most prevalent in the New England states. In Connecticut (where I've lived my whole life) and Massachusetts (just over the border) it is usually incorporated into the name of the store itself. For example, "John's Package Store" on the signage, with no reference to alcohol in the store name. And they sell everything from Beer and Wine to Spirits.