Unconventional Convenience on the Outer Banks

SG | Imagine if you will: You’re in the middle of a Beach Week and you’re fresh out of beer. You could also use some wine for that lovely spaghetti dinner planned for tomorrow night (you need a break from seafood). You hop in the car and get a good 10 minutes from the rental cottage when you realize — you’re barefoot. Or, I don’t know, maybe you’re shirtless. Wet bathing suit? Something compromising.

Before 1977, visitors to North Carolina’s Outer Banks would have had to turn around and put themselves back together before strolling into the package store, squandering a good 20 to 30 minutes of vacation down-time. But we live in the 21st century. And we have Brew Thru.

Would this kind of business survive outside the South? Hard to say.

I’m a relative Brew Thru neophyte, having grown up spring breaking on the white sands of Alabama. My wife was familiar with them, though, and suggested we stop in for some beer and, yes, wine for the spaghetti dinner, as we headed back to the beach house through Nags Head. Fine, I thought. A convenient little store that sells nothing but beer and wine.

I love that some of you may not know where I’m heading with this, by the way.

I nonchalantly pull into the parking lot and notice a sign pointing me around to the side of the store. “A drive through?” I exclaim. “Great. That’s convenient.”

Denver had a drive-through liquor store right on Colfax, a few blocks from where I lived when I was out there. It was handy, but I still usually preferred the walk-in variety. I like to see what I’m buying when it comes to alcohol, unless it’s just for a casual six-pack. So I was already starting to feel a little pressure as I tooled around the corner of the Brew Thru. (What kind of wine did we want, anyway? I don’t really know what to ask for unless it’s there in front of me.)

And that’s when it hit me: I’m not driving to a window on the side of this store. I’m driving INTO this store. The “thru” is no joke, with the building structured like a Jiffy Lube or drive-in car wash. I’m sure my intemperate excitement at that moment of clarity was unflattering, but it was one of those flashes in time when everything just made sense. Of course I’m driving into this liquor store. Of course! Why wouldn’t I be able to drive my car into a liquor store, roll down the window and point out a six-pack that I want? And just in case you can’t crane your neck enough to see the far side of the wine racks, they have a nice, laminated menu to peruse. The convenience of it all was overpowering, but I pulled it together and started making some selections. And texted a photo to my mom.

Would this kind of business survive outside the South? Hard to say. It may not even be viable outside the unique environs of the Outer Banks. A t-shirt at the Nags Head store tipped me off to the possibility of a Panama City Beach location. And at one time, a franchise had indeed planted a flag in that tawdry little gem on the Gulf Coast. But it has since closed.

A brief reflection on what could have gone wrong at the PCB location leads me to a theory I think would hold up: The bevy of well-stocked Igloo coolers slow-cruised along the strip in the back of pickup trucks stymied demand for a drive-through beer store. Thankfully, a pickup full of frat boys waving a Confederate flag is hard to come by on the Outer Banks. Those cruising NC Hwy. 12 are of the type more likely to need a six pack of cold ones but less likely to want to walk into a store shirtless to get it. We’re thirsty, but not uncouth.

You’ll find other unconventional drive-throughs out there — the Moo Thru in Fauquier County, Virginia, serves drive-up ice cream (its name inspired by the OBX legend); Farm Stores in South Florida let you haul groceries in through your car window; and word has it Amazon is tinkering with a similar drive-through grocery concept in the Northwest. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find another store out there that lets you drive right on in. And that’s a shame. The world would be better served by more Brew Thrus.

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