Blue laws are meant to prohibit certain activities like the sale of alcohol from taking place on Sundays. North Carolina still has blue laws, but certain legislation has created exceptions to them.
In 2017, then-North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signed the “brunch bill,” Senate Bill 155 (SB 155). This law allowed restaurants and retail outlets such as stores to begin selling alcoholic beverages at 10 a.m. on Sundays instead of at noon. Local governments, such as cities and county commissions, retained the power to modify restaurant serving hours to an earlier time.
Approval of Early Alcohol Sales
Large cities across North Carolina have passed regulations to allow the sale of alcohol at 10 a.m. on Sundays. The list of cities that have modified municipal laws includes Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Durham, New Bern and Fayetteville.
The change impacts restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores, bars and other establishments that previously had to wait until 12 p.m. to sell alcohol on Sundays.
Which Blue Laws Remain in NC
North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 18B, which relates to the regulation of alcoholic beverages, contains several provisions that govern the sales of various types of alcohol. Section 18B-1004 provides that it is unlawful to sell malt beverages, unfortified wine, fortified wine or mixed beverages between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m.
It is also unlawful to consume any of those alcoholic beverages between the hours of 2:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. in a place issued a permit to serve alcoholic beverages.
Sunday Alcohol Sales Laws
Unless a local town or county has authorized the sale of alcoholic beverages starting at 10 a.m. on Sunday, it is unlawful to sell or consume alcoholic beverages on any licensed premises from the time at which sale or consumption must cease on Sunday morning until 12 p.m. that day.
Municipality Prohibition Ordinances
A city may adopt a local ordinance prohibiting the retail sale, such as in grocery stores, of malt beverages, unfortified wine and fortified wine during any or all of the hours from 12 p.m. on Sunday until 7 a.m. the following Monday.
Neither a city nor a county may prohibit such sales in establishments with brown-bagging or mixed beverages permits. The term “brown-bagging” refers to a customer bringing liquor into a restaurant in a brown paper bag, purchasing soft drink set-ups and mixing their own drinks at the table.
Special Rules for Events
An event organizer that wants food and alcohol vendors to sell items at their events must get a permit from the North Carolina Alcohol Beverage Control Commission (Commission). Additionally, the organizer must get a local city beer/wine permit if the sale and consumption of alcohol will occur on a public street. For example, this is the rule in Charlotte.
If approval is granted for the sale, possession or consumption of beer or wine for the event, the local police department will require the event organizer to submit an alcohol control plan.
The plan ensures that the sale of alcohol to the public is done in a safe and legal manner. Unless approval is given in advance, the city requires the event organizer to cease selling alcohol one hour prior to the end of the event. The exception is if the city police department determines a different time for the end of alcohol sales, given the behavior of the crowd.
One-time Event Permits
The Commission requires a special one time event sales permit for selling alcohol at a public event. The permit requires approval by the city police department. The permit must be obtained before a public assembly permit can be issued.
A city typically requires approval from the department of transportation and department of risk management to temporarily possess open containers of alcohol on public property. Approval of the permit requires proof of event insurance with host liquor liability coverage in the amount of $1,000,000.
Alcoholic Beverage Control stores
The Commission operates a few hundred ABC stores throughout the state. State law provides that ABC stores are closed on Sundays, as well as New Year’s Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. A local board may determine other days on which ABC stores shall be closed. The brunch bill did not affect ABC store hours.
Purchasing Beer in North Carolina
An individual can buy beer at a restaurant or store, except for an ABC store, in North Carolina on Sunday in a county or city that allows beer sales to begin on Sunday at 10 a.m.
If the area does not allow alcohol sales until after 12 p.m., the individual must wait to buy beer at the restaurant or store until after noon. Otherwise, a person can buy beer at a restaurant or store Monday through Saturday between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m.
Alcohol Delivery Services
An individual can order alcohol through a delivery service to be provided to their home or venue. Businesses typically deal with North Carolina’s blue laws by offering delivery service Monday through Saturday between set hours. A business may modify its hours for Sunday sales or delivery in accordance with local rules.
Spirit Sales in North Carolina
The brunch bill allows craft distillers to sell five bottles of spirits to customers per year. The previous limit was one bottle per year. SB 155 also allowed distillers to offer tastings at festivals and similar events. A city must approve the distiller tastings. Otherwise, North Carolina only allows the sale of spirits in local county or municipal ABC stores.
On Sundays, distilleries may offer consumer tastings of spirits starting at 12 p.m. unless the city authorizes the sale of alcoholic beverages before 12 p.m. North Carolina General Statutes 18B-1114.7 provides that spirits in closed containers may be sold between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays.
Spirits in closed containers may also be sold from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on the following holidays that do not fall on a Sunday: New Year’s Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day and Thanksgiving Day.
North Carolina’s Three-tier System
North Carolina does not allow alcoholic beverage producers to directly ship alcoholic beverages to consumers. A licensed manufacturer, importer, bottler or nonresident vendor, defined as being in the first tier, may sell and ship only to licensed wholesalers, defined as being in the second tier.
The wholesaler may sell only to licensed retailers, defined as being in the third tier or other wholesalers. The only exception to the three-tier system is that a North Carolina winery can ship its products to individual purchasers inside and outside the state.
State Alcohol License
A North Carolina business that wants to sell any type of alcohol must have a state liquor license issued by the Commission. The Commission also processes applications for special one-time permits issued to tax-exempt nonprofit or political organizations for fundraising events.
The Commission issues limited special occasion permits for individuals or groups hosting functions such as wedding receptions and company parties.
Limited Special Occasion Permits
A limited special occasion permit allows the permit holder to bring fortified wine and spirits onto the premises of a business with permission from the owner of the property. The permit holder may serve those alcoholic beverages to their guests at a reception, wedding, party or other special occasion held there.
The permit may be issued to any individual other than the owner or possessor of the premises. The applicant for a limited special occasion permit must have the written permission of the owner or possessor of the property where the special occasion is to be held.
Different types of limited special occasion permits include permits issued to:
- Nonprofits to allow the retail sale of malt beverages, unfortified wine, fortified wine or to allow brown bagging at a single fundraising event for the organization. The permit shall not be issued for the sale of any alcoholic beverage in a jurisdiction where the sale of that alcoholic beverage is unlawful.
- Nonprofits or political organizations to serve wine, malt beverages and spirits at a ticketed event held to allow the organization to raise funds. Here a nonprofit means an organization exempt from taxation under Section 501(c)(3), 501(c)(4), 501(c)(6), 501(c)(8), 501(c)(10), 501(c)(19), or (501(d) of the Internal Revenue Code or exempt from similar provisions of the General Statutes as a bona fide nonprofit charitable, civic religious, fraternal, patriotic or veterans’ organization or as a nonprofit volunteer fire department, a nonprofit volunteer rescue squad or a bona fide homeowners’ or property owners’ association. A political organization means an organization covered by the provisions of North Carolina General Statutes Section 163-96(a)(1) or (2) or a campaign organization established by or for a person who is a candidate who has filed a notice of candidacy, paid the filing fees or filed the required petition and been certified as a candidate.
- Collector of wine or decorative decanters of spirits authorizing them to bring into the state, transport, or possess as a collector, a greater amount of those alcoholic beverages than is otherwise authorized by the Commission or to sell those alcoholic beverages in a manner prescribed by the Commission.
- Permit holder who is going out of business to authorize the sale or other disposition of their alcoholic beverages stock in a manner that would not otherwise be authorized under their permit.
- Person who acquires ownership or possession of alcoholic beverages through bankruptcy, inheritance, foreclosure, judicial sale or other special occurrence and who does not already have a permit authorizing the sale of that kind of alcoholic beverage. The permit may allow the sale or other disposition of the alcoholic beverages in a manner prescribed by the Commission.
Limited special occasion permits are to be issued only for limited circumstances and not as substitutes for other retail permits. Special one-time permits are valid only for the single transaction or type of activity specified in the permit. They are subject to any conditions the Commission may impose as to the time, place and manner of the authorized activity. If the Commission denies or revokes a permit, the applicant or permit holder is not entitled to a hearing.
Retail ABC Permits
A retail ABC permit may not be transferred from one person to another or from one location to another. This type of permit authorizes the permitted activity only on the premises of the establishment named in the permit. The permit is issued to the owner of the business conducted on the premises or to the management company employed to independently manage and operate the business.
A retail ABC permit held by an establishment must be posted in a prominent place on the premises. An ABC permit automatically expires and must be surrendered to the Commission if the person to whom it is issued does not commence the activity authorized by the permit, such as alcohol sales, within six months of the date the permit is effective.
Before the six-month period expires, the Commission may waive this provision in individual cases for good cause.
Local Beer and Wine Licenses
A business that plans to offer beer and/or wine within city limits must get a city beer and wine license as well as a state license. The business must have their state license before presenting an application to the city. A city license requires a fee, which vary according to the city.
A city license is typically renewable on an annual basis. A city may limit the sale of hard liquors within city limits to restaurants and privately owned clubs. The Commission issues licenses for hard liquor sales.
- North Carolina Miscellany: North Carolina Blue Laws
- General Assembly of North Carolina, Session 2017: Senate Bill 155
- North Carolina General Statutes: Section 18B, Regulation of Alcoholic Beverages
- NCPedia: Brown-bagging
- City of Charlotte: Food & Alcohol Sales
- The Carolina Journal: Brunch Bill a big hit across state
- City of New Bern: Beer and Wine Licenses in New Bern
- Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission: General Permit Inforamtion
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.