Bottles in big boxes: liquor licensing regulations and the history of Melbourne bottle shops

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This paper traces a twentieth century history of bottle shops-sites for purchasing takeaway alcohol-using Victoria (principally Melbourne) as a case study. It borrows from Valverde’s work on the ‘many smaller prohibitions’ of alcohol control: revealing layers of ‘street level’ and ‘common sense’ policies (spatial, material and temporal) rarely subject to critical reflection. The paper approaches bottle shops as sites shaped by regulations: as both reflecting and reinforcing norms and fears about alcohol and consumption. Bottle shops are also ephemeral, leaving few traces of their earlier forms. The paper newly
examines the history of regulations applicable to bottle shops in Victoria, corresponding these to changes in location, layout and design. This trajectory moves from earlier licensed grocers and wine merchants; through increasingly regulated ‘swill’ hotels; to the emergence of separate and supermarket bottle shops; drive-in bottle shops; and later the rise of ‘big box’ liquor outlets. Showing how the liberalisation that characterised liquor and planning law at the end of the twentieth century has seeded renewed tensions, the paper considers some of the debates that bottle shops draw out: relationships between
packaged alcohol and car-oriented suburban development, the spectre of the park-bench dwelling ‘wino’ versus ideas of civilised drinking, links between packaged alcohol and domestic violence, and concerns about the dominance of major supermarket liquor chains in disadvantaged suburban areas. The paper argues that bottle shops, and the deceptively mundane regulations that shape them, reveal broader contentious relationships between regulation, urban form, consumption, and liberal ideals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)86-99
Number of pages14
JournalHistoric Environment
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes

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