The alcoholic beverage industry has changed drastically since the Prohibition era. In 2007, the Census Bureau reported more than 31,000 liquor stores across the country that rang up collective sales of more than $36 billion annually. Liquor stores come in a variety of types and sizes, but they all have one thing in common -- they sell alcoholic beverages.


Most liquor stores sell beer, wine, spirits and flavored malt beverages. Stores in upscale neighborhoods often devote one-third of their retail space or more to wine shelves and displays, and they may hold frequent wine tastings and educational classes. Liquor stores often sell cigarettes, soft drinks, mixers and a variety of cocktail paraphernalia, including wine keys, shot glasses and shakers. In some states, liquor stores may also sell food.

License vs. Control States

In 17 states and a few Maryland counties, the government controls the sale of alcohol, acting as both the distributor and retailer. While most laws concerning the actual sale of alcohol are fairly consistent across the “license states,” the laws vary widely in the “control states.” In some of these latter states, you can only purchase spirits from state-run stores, but you can purchase wine and beer from independent outlets. Other control states do not allow the sale of anything but alcoholic beverages in their stores, forcing manufacturers to include some alcohol in drink mixers so the stores can carry them.

Types and Sizes

Even in license states, the government has the last say on how liquor stores are structured. In Connecticut, private liquor stores, commonly called package stores, are the only retail establishments that can sell wine and spirits, while beer can be sold in grocery stores. In California, liquor stores, grocery stores, drugstores and convenience stores can all sell wine, beer and spirits. This is also true in Florida and Nevada, although the portion of the store that sells liquor must have a separate entrance from the main retail store. In Georgia, an individual licensee cannot own more than five independent liquor stores.

Laws and Regulations

Each state has an alcohol beverage commission or liquor control board that is responsible for setting and maintaining the state laws regarding the sale of alcohol. Every state has set the minimum legal drinking age at 21 years old, and liquor stores are expected to adhere strictly to this law or risk losing their liquor licenses. The states also regulate the operating hours for the stores and usually mandate that they stay closed on national holidays.