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Retail & Shopping Centers

Did you miss the historical marker? U.S. Alcohol Market has modernized but legacies linger

Category: Retail & Shopping Centers Special Report

December 9, 2013 – The date slid my most of us last week, without us even knowing it’s significance.

But, eighty years go Prohibition was repealed on December 5, 1933. Today, many states across the country have greatly modernized their alcohol markets, but some Prohibition legacies linger according to the Distilled Spirits Council.

In 1920, the 18th Amendment, popularly known as "Prohibition," outlawed alcohol in the United States making America a "dry" country.  Thirteen years later on December 5th, 1933, most of the country agreed Prohibition was a complete policy debacle and overwhelmingly ratified the 21st Amendment repealing the 18th – to this day the only Constitutional amendment repealing another amendment.

"While the Government originally envisioned Prohibition to be a 'noble experiment in social engineering,' the effort completely failed to deliver its promised benefits and actually made things much worse," said DISCUS President Peter Cressy, noting that Prohibition increased crime and exacerbated alcohol abuse.  "Over the past eight decades, there has been tremendous modernization within the industry; however, some prohibition legacies still remain inconveniencing consumers and impeding economic growth."

For example, Cressy cited, 12 states still ban Sunday spirits sales at package stores; six states ban all forms of spirits tastings; and, one state (South Carolina) continues the truly anachronistic ban on alcohol sales during state and national Election Days – a throwback to the period when saloons often served as polling stations.  The voters in many Georgia cities and counties now allow Sunday sales.

"Consumer demand for greater choice and convenience has resulted in a more modern marketplace across the country and a boom in innovative spirits products around the globe," Cressy said.

States are increasingly repealing outdated Blue Laws as a means to increase revenue without raising taxes, according to Cressy, who noted that 16 states have repealed Sunday sales bans since 2002 for a total of 38 states.  Further, he said, the last decade has seen an increase in spirits market share among beverage alcohol products, greater consumer interest in premium spirits products, and record export growth.

"As America marks this historic Anniversary of Prohibition Repeal, let's raise a toast to those states that took a stand 80 years ago against one of the biggest policy fiascos in American history and set the stage for today's robust American spirits market," Cressy concluded.


Prohibition's Lingering Legacies

Dry Counties.  Eighty years later, there are still hundreds of dry counties across the United States today that partially or completely restrict alcohol consumption – mostly across the South and West.

Sunday Sales.  Twelve states still ban Sunday spirits sales, including: AL, IN, MN, MS, MT, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, UT, and WV.  Notably, Indiana remains the only state in the country which still bans all beer, wine and spirits sales at package stores on Sundays.

Spirits Sampling Restrictions.  Six states still ban all forms of spirits sampling, including: AK, GA, MT, NC, OK, and UT.

Neo-Prohibitionists.  Neo-prohibitionists continue to promote misguided "population-based controls" as a means of restricting alcohol sales. The most popular examples of these population-based controls include tax increases which lead to higher prices; bans on advertising and marketing; and excessive restrictions on market access. 

Trend of Modernization

Since 2002, 16 states have joined the list of states that allow Sunday spirits sales for a total of 38 states, including most recently Connecticut (2012).  

In 2011, Georgia passed local option legislation allowing Sunday alcohol sales.  Since then, more than 200 communities have voted in favor of Sunday alcohol sales, including major population centers such as Atlanta (82%-18%), Macon (62%-38%), and Savannah (60%-40%), among others.

Since 2004, Texans have marched to the polls to rally for alcohol modernization.  Of the 665 local wet/dry elections since 2004, nearly 80% have gone "wet."  In November, voters in Arlington, TX overwhelmingly favored alcohol sales 70%-30%.

For more information on Prohibition and its Repeal, please visit:


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