I’m still coming to terms with the sheer amount of choice that is offered by some stores in America. Everybody knows about WalMart by now, although the incredible scale of their outlets admittedly takes some getting used to. Earlier this year, the Special One and I found ourselves unexpectedly stranded at a Massachusetts hotel with nothing around for miles except an enormous WalMart the size of around four football pitches. I think I had retail nightmares for two days afterwards. Lose somebody in one of these places and you should fully expect not to see them for three weeks.
But it’s not just the corporate giants that have the ability to stock at least 17,000 more items than you could ever conceivably need – even the neighbo
urhood stores get in on the act. A short walk away from Brit Out Of Water Towers lies Winn Discount, a shop that manages to cram a whole shopping mall’s worth of products into a premises no bigger than your average Starbucks. Their stock includes a staggeringly diverse range of goods, from shoelaces to shower rails, and dodgy martial arts DVDs to dodgy herbal supplements. Put simply, if you need something, it’s likely that Winn Discount stocks it.
America is built on the principle that retail outlets should offer the consumer everything that they could possibly want. So what I really don’t understand is why this principle doesn’t hold true when it comes to shops that stock the one thing that Brits care about more than most other things – alcohol.
Buying alcohol isn’t a problem in the United States. Well, apart from one embarrassing incident shortly before my wedding, when the bouncer at the door of an Irish bar in the Village threatened to prevent this 34 year old from entering because of a lack of ID. The problem is buying everything you want in one shop.
If you need beer for a party, bottles can be bought in practically every deli, grocery shop and convenience store known to man. And vast arrays of beer at that. Where a grocery store in the UK might offer Heineken, Stella and Kronenbourg, even the smallest deli in Brooklyn will offer at least ten (and generally many more) choices from organic pale ale through to Guinness.
If you want wine for the same party, then don’t expect to see it in the deli. For that you need a liquor store, with its bewildering collections of forty eight different Californian chardonnays, and eye-wateringly expensive French, Italian and Australasian wines. No beers though. After all, who would want to buy beer and wine from the same place? However, you will be able to pick up all your spirits here, presumably on the basis that a few swigs of gin will numb much of the pain induced by spending $25 on a wine which you would pick up for a fiver back home.
Of course, if you want tonic with that gin, you won’t be able to get it at the same liquor store you bought your gin from. They don’t sell it. They’re not allowed to, apparently. You’ll need to go back to the deli for that. After all, why would you ever think about putting bottles of gin and bottles of tonic on sale in the same place?
I’m sure that there’s some legislative reason for all of this, and that someone will explain it to me. But part of me thinks that it’s just a plot to ensure that any kind of party with alcohol is just a little bit too much of a pain in the neck, and that you’ll give up and have Dr Pepper instead.
It’s almost enough to turn a man to drink, I can tell you.