Why Don’t Grocery Stores Sell Liquor? (& which states allow it)


If you enjoy a good cocktail but find it inconvenient to buy liquor at a liquor store, you may wonder why don’t grocery stores sell liquor?

I decided to investigate and here’s what I learned:

After the end of prohibition in 1933, states were allowed to regulate alcohol sales themselves. But it resulted in a wide variety of laws from state to state. However, many states in the US do sell liquor at grocery stores. But, each county within the state can have its own laws regulating the sale of liquor.

But there’s a lot more to know than that!

Many states allow you to buy beer and/or wine in grocery stores. But some states do not sell any alcohol in grocery stores. Some states will allow you to buy liquor on Sundays, but even some of those don’t let you buy it before noon.

For example, in Nebraska, you cannot purchase liquor until noon. But in Florida, there are no time restrictions on liquor sales, but you can only purchase liquor from liquor stores.

And other states limit the liquor licenses chain stores have so not all locations may actually sell liquor. It all gets very confusing and frustrating.

But have no fear! We’ve done the leg work to make sure you are well informed about the sale of alcohol in various states.

Just keep reading!

What states do not sell alcohol in grocery stores?

Alcohol is prohibited from being sold in grocery stores in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Alaska.

Alaska and Delaware have no Sunday restrictions, but you can only buy alcohol at liquor stores. This is any alcohol – beer, wine, and liquor.

In fact, if you are in Alaska, you can’t even enter a licensed premises if you are under 21 years of age unless you are with a parent, guardian, or spouse that is of age. (source)

With a bar for every 60 residents, Alaska is notorious for having high rates of alcoholism.

As a result, they have a very high rate of violence and crime stemming from intoxication. So it’s no surprise that Alaska has such harsh laws regarding alcohol sales. They’ve even been known to arrest bar patrons for being too drunk. (source and source)

While you can’t purchase alcohol in all grocery stores in Pennsylvania, you can purchase beer from some gas stations. You can also purchase up to two six-packs of beer from local bars. (source)

However, over time, the laws have started to loosen a bit and some grocery stores have started selling alcohol. The grocery stores that are allowed to sell alcohol must do so at a separate register.

What states allow grocery stores to sell liquor?

The states listed below DO allow sales of liquor in grocery stores:

  • Washington
  • California*
  • Nevada
  • Arizona
  • New Mexico
  • Wyoming
  • North Dakota
  • South Dakota
  • Nebraska
  • Missouri
  • Illinois
  • Wisconsin
  • Michigan
  • Massachusetts
  • Indiana
  • West Virginia

*Fun Fact: California does not allow alcohol to be displayed within five feet of the cash register if the establishment also sells motor fuel.

Each state comes with its own limitations on the sale of liquor in grocery stores.

Read this recent article for a more thorough explanation of what those limits are. You might find it interesting to know that Kentucky, home of Jim Beam, has some of the most confusing liquor laws in the country.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

What states don’t sell alcohol on Sundays?

There are several states with a Sunday ban on retail alcohol sales.

But even states with Sunday sales bans have caveats. Most of the states listed below ban liquor sales, but still allow beer and wine sales. Some take it a step further by banning Sunday sales at certain times during the day.

Those states are:

Arkansas Alcohol and liquor sales are prohibited in most counties on Sunday and statewide on Christmas day.
Georgia Alcohol sales vary by county. Counties that do allow Sunday sales cannot sell alcohol until 12:30 p.m.
Mississippi Liquor stores are closed on Sunday, but beer is still sold at grocery stores.
North Carolina State-run liquor stores are closed, which means no liquor sales. Beer is sold all day on Sunday at grocery stores.
South Carolina No hard liquor sales are permitted on Sunday. Beer and wine can be purchased all day.
Tennessee No wine or liquor sales are permitted on Sunday. Beer is sold all day.
Texas No liquor sales are permitted. Beer and wine cannot be sold until noon.
West Virginia No liquor sales are permitted. Beer and wine cannot be sold until 1:00 pm.

Why are they called blue laws?

Blue laws are designed to ban certain activities on Sunday for religious reasons, particularly to observe a day of worship or rest.

Some states ban horse racing and car sales on Sundays. Some states ban hunting on Sundays. A handful of states ban the sale of alcohol on Sunday.

I found two theories about why they are called blue laws. The first one is the one that I had always heard: that the laws were originally written on blue paper.

However, the more likely reason is based on the 18th-century usage of the word “blue.” In the 18th century, “blue” meant rigidly moral in a disparaging sense. (source)

They were originally enacted to encourage church attendance and restrict activity to that which was deemed worthy of observation on the Sabbath.

The first blue law was enacted in colonial Virginia in 1610. Though it wasn’t called a blue law, it mandated church attendance on Sundays. The law also prohibited unseemly behavior.

Drinking alcohol or public displays of affection were subject to penalties that included large fines or confinement.

Eventually, blue laws evolved to ban the sale of tobacco and alcohol as well as unnecessary labor. Some areas also prohibited some kinds of entertainment.

What states still have blue laws?

Many states still have blue laws in place, but most of them have been repealed in the United States.

Even so, the Supreme Court has held that blue laws are constitutional. Blue laws ensure that mail carriers get a day of rest, guarantee a day of rest for religious reasons, and protect workers and families.

Some states ban certain alcohol sales. Others ban car sales on Sundays and others ban horse racing.

The states below currently have blue laws in place:

Arkansas Alcohol and liquor sales are prohibited in most counties on Sunday and statewide on Christmas day.
Georgia Alcohol sales vary by county. Counties that do allow Sunday sales cannot sell alcohol until 12:30 p.m.
Illinois Horse racing is prohibited on Sundays, with exceptions. Car dealerships are closed on Sunday
Iowa Car sales and mobile home sales are prohibited on Sunday
Maine Hunting is prohibited on Sunday. Almost all businesses are prohibited from opening on Thanksgiving Day.
Maryland Car dealerships are prohibited from doing business on Sunday, with some exceptions. Professional sports teams are prohibited from playing games before 1:00 p.m. on Sunday.
Massachusetts Alcohol sales are banned on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and Memorial Day.
Minnesota Car dealerships are not allowed to do business on Sunday.
Mississippi Liquor stores are closed on Sunday, but beer is still sold at grocery stores.
North Carolina State-run liquor stores are closed, which means no liquor sales. Beer is sold all day on Sunday at grocery stores. Gun hunting is prohibited on Sunday between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
Oklahoma Car dealerships are closed on Sunday.
Pennsylvania Hunting is prohibited on Sunday, except for foxes, crows, and coyotes.
Tennessee No wine or liquor sales are permitted on Sunday. Beer is sold all day.
Texas car dealerships must be closed on either Saturday or Sunday. The dealer gets to choose which day. No liquor sales are permitted on Sunday. Beer and wine cannot be sold until noon.
West Virginia No liquor sales are permitted on Sunday. Beer and wine cannot be sold until 1:00 pm. Hunting is prohibited in all but 14 counties.

Did I answer all of your questions about why grocery stores don’t sell liquor?

Trying to purchase alcohol, especially liquor, while you’re traveling from state to state can be very frustrating.

Laws are regulated at the state level and many states pass that responsibility down to counties and cities.

I’ve discussed a few of those regulations including blue laws and how they affect alcohol sales in certain states.

I also talked about what states allow the sale of liquor at grocery stores, as well as any limitations. And, I even listed the states that do not allow the sale of liquor at grocery stores.

While this is a pretty thorough guide, you should still check the local laws. That’s especially true if you are going to a state that has different laws for different counties.

Jeff Campbell

Hi! I'm Jeff Campbell. I was a leader for Whole Foods Market for over 2 decades. I worked in 9 stores in 4 states, not counting the hundred-plus stores I've assisted in other ways. I was a Global All-Star, a Gold Pen Winner, and won Top-10 Store (company-wide) 3 times in addition to Best New Store (company-wide).

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