There’s a variety of anecdotal information online about whether it’s possible to purchase alcohol or liquor from membership-based stores (such as Costco) in the United States if you don’t have a paid membership. Some sites quote federal, state or local liquor licensing laws as to why it isn’t possible for “alcohol clubs” to exist or similarly vague or unreferenced sources.
Having recently travelled to Hawaii, I wanted to test these ‘theories’ out for myself and see whether I could get a good deal for something to take back home as my duty-free allowance.
My research took me to the Hawaii Revised Statutes 281, the state law which sets out the liquor licensing restrictions that other online sites might vaguely reference. My reading of these statutes indicated there were no specifics mentioned for retailers (which typically will need to hold a class 4 license) being able to restricts individuals by way of membership or not. This appeared to be far less definitive than other random blog posts online had mentioned so I decided to go to the source — the Department of Liquor Control for the County of Hawaii.
Here’s the official answer from the Director himself as of 19 May 2018:
The question that you pose is an interesting question that has been previously debated. There was a thought earlier that restricting retail sales of liquor in a membership store was unconstitutional, however only constitutionally protected classes qualify and since stores like Costco only require a membership payment, but don’t discriminate on the typical constitutional (race, religion, national origin, etc.) they are within their rights, since lack of money to pay for membership is not a protected class. Having said that the local COSTCO does allow customers without a membership in to purchase liquor, they must announce themselves at the door and purchases are restricted to liquor Thus, the right to purchase liquor is not a right, but a privilege granted by the licensee and could thus be withdrawn by them as well.
With this in hand, I visited the local Costco on Kaua’i to test it out. I presented myself to the membership checker at the door and she seemed to understand the situation. She made a call to someone from the phone at the door and asked for an escort for me to ensure I specifically purchase alcohol only. The escort arrived, walked me through the shop to the liquor section, making some friendly idle discussion as we went.
As it transpired, the range of liquor in (this) Costco was quite limited and the rum I was interested in (Koloa Rum, locally produced on Kaua’i) was actually notably more expensive than a nearby supermarket called Foodland. If I wanted to buy the Kirkland-branded liquors, the prices appeared comparable to those I’ve previously seen in mainland stores, but this isn’t what I was looking for at this time. So, I politely explained the situation and was left to exit the store accordingly.
So there you have it. Costco is providing a privilege to non-members for specifically this purpose, at least in the state and county of Hawai’i, at least at the time of writing in 2018. Other pages online list various other states where this is/might be possible such as Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Texas and Vermont but I can’t attest to anything by Hawai’i at this stage.
Spending the money to buy a membership for just for this purpose would have been a pointless as their range wasn’t as wide as I’d read about online, and the items they did have that piqued my interest were cheaper elsewhere. Mind you, if I lived in the United States and shopped at Costco regularly, it would be a different story.Go Top