How Liquor Stores Came About in the U.S.

You might notice that in different parts of the country, people use various names to refer to a liquor store. For instance, in North Carolina, they go to an ABC Store to purchase a bottle of whiskey. The term ‘ABC’ is, in fact, an abbreviation of Alcoholic Beverage Control commission which operates liquor stores in the state. Meanwhile, in South Carolina, they call these shops ‘red dot stores.’ The reason behind this is because most Palmetto State liquor stores have three red dots on their signs. In Pennsylvania refer to this as a ‘state store’ while in Michigan, they frequent ‘party stores’ for their booze.
Meanwhile, in other parts of the country, they use the term ‘package store’ or ‘packy.’ Now, you might wonder where this came from. Well, it is rooted in the history of liquor stores which we will discuss in this post.

Transitioning Liquor to Retail Sales

It’s worth noting that up until the 20th century, retail sales were quite different in the booze industry. Instead of packaging them in glass bottles, most distilleries and breweries sold their products in barrels and kegs. At this stage, stoppers for the bottles were still unreliable and they tend to break or leak during transit. As such, most retailers bought whiskey and beer in bulk. Then, they transferred the booze into smaller containers and bottles for sale in their stores.

In 1893, the Dispensary law was passed and barrels of whiskey could be purchased and packaged in bottles. However, in South Carolina, only the state government was allowed to do this. Of course, saloonkeepers and liquor retailers tried to skirt this by filing lawsuits repeatedly and finding loopholes in the Federal code.

Where Original Package Stores Started

In 1890, the Supreme Court ruled that the government could not confiscate property that was legally imported into any state. Moreover, as long as liquor was in its ‘original package,’ it was considered legal and could be distributed to customers. J.S. Pinkussohn took advantage of this loophole and opened an original package store in 1897 in Charleston. He ordered a thousand cases of liquor which were shipped via a Clyde Line steamer. He then sold the booze in gallon packages, and rival stores quickly followed suit.

Soon, original package stores rose in popularity in other parts of the state. During this time, one- and two-gallon jugs were packaged and sold in water buckets. Meanwhile, quart bottles were sold in ‘neat cedar boxes.’

Over the years that followed, the Supreme Court’s ruling was overturned, appealed, and reinstated several times. Even so, the term ‘package store’ stayed within the consumers’ minds. After the Prohibition was abolished, the concept of ‘original package’ distribution was incorporated into several state laws. This was done as an effort to prevent retailers from purchasing spirits in bulk and repackaging them. In a way, this also protects the products from becoming adulterated or watered down.

To this day, the term ‘package store’ is still used in various parts of the country. The truth is, it has nothing to do with the brown paper bags that contain wine bottles. Instead, its origins trace back to the legal dodges and twists back in the South Carolina Dispensary era.

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