Red dots and blue laws

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The story behind liquor laws in South Carolina 🔴

Only 12 years ago, all S.C. bars served liquor or liquor drinks using mini bottles: sealed bottles containing less than 50 milliliters inside. Our state has a long list of regulations + laws when it comes to alcohol, and we had questions – so we looked into S.C.’s ABC Act, what those red dots on liquor stores mean, and how our state compares when it comes to alcohol restrictions.

S.C. has a statewide ban on the sale of packaged liquor on Sundays from a grocery or liquor store, but individual municipalities have set their own laws for when the sale of beer + wine is allowed on Sundays. Here’s an interactive map breaking down Sunday sales by S.C. county.

🍸 In Columbia, liquor can be served in bars + restaurants any day of the week from 10 a.m.- 2 a.m. Beer + wine can be served at any time except Saturday night from 2 a.m. until 10 a.m. Sunday morning, or between 2 a.m. Sunday night and sunrise on Monday (unless businesses have an extended hours permit from the City).

🛒 On the retail side, packaged liquor can be sold in Columbia stores Monday-Saturday between 9 a.m.-7:00 p.m. The sale of beer + wine from stores is allowed in Columbia any time.

What are blue laws and do they still exist? ⚖

Blue laws are state or local laws which prohibit certain activities on Sundays (particularly entertainment, sports, or drinking) to honor the Christian Sabbath/day of rest. South Carolina was the last state in the country to lift a ban on Election Day alcohol sales, doing so in 2014. It is still illegal to purchase alcohol from a liquor store on Christmas.

Why is it called an ABC store? 🏬

Seventeen states employ an Alcoholic Beverage Control model, which means the sale of distilled liquor is controlled by state government, and liquor stores often sell only spirits (or sometimes spirits and wine, but not beer). South Carolina’s ABC Act was repealed in the late 90s.

The story behind the red dots: 🔴 🔴 🔴

S.C. allowed the sale of liquor in 1935, but there were some pretty tight restrictions on advertisement by liquor stores: no neon signs, no price advertising, no bottles displayed, signage must only read “Retail Liquor Dealer.”

Rumor has it that a longtime Charleston sign painter was inspired by the logo on a back of Lucky Strike cigarettes, and painted a large red dot on the store’s sign. It spread like wildfire, but by 1968, the state Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) ruled that the red dots were advertisement and could no longer be used. In 1976, the ABC ruled + clarified that red dots aren’t to exceed 36” and laws for liquor store ads have becoming gradually relaxed ever since.

See some other Southeastern states’ laws on alcohol.

Alabama: Blue laws in Alabama prohibit all alcohol sales on Sunday unless specified by county/city. There are a number of dry counties in Alabama, but most cities allow the sale of alcohol (map).

Florida: Several counties prohibit the sale of alcohol on Sundays.

Georgia: Georgia laws are finally changing on Sundays; with Senate Bill 17, “the Brunch Bill,” altering the start time so restaurants can serve alcohol as early as 11 a.m., rather than 12:30 p.m. However, this does not change the time that grocery stores are allowed to sell alcohol.

Not until September 2017, were breweries + distilleries able to sell their product from manufacturing to consumer (like in a brewery setting). Previously, breweries would sell beer glasses and give “free” samples of their drinks.

Kentucky: This state still has dry counties, where even the possession of alcohol is illegal.

Mississippi: The sale of alcohol is prohibited in most of the state on Sundays while the sale of liquor is not allowed at all in nearly half of Mississippi’s counties.

North Carolina: No alcohol sales Monday-Saturday between the hours of 2-7 a.m.; and on Sundays between 2-10 a.m. (sometimes 12 p.m.; varies by county). Some grocery stores rope off the alcohol aisle for compliance. By regulation of the ABC, businesses can only offer happy hour specials on food items, not on drinks. Businesses are allowed to offer drink specials that run throughout the day, as long as those specials are available to everyone (i.e. no “ladies’ nights”) + don’t require patrons to buy more than one drink to get the discount (so no “buy one get one free” drinks).