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shameless pleading

Party Store

And hot dogs old enough to vote.

Dear Word Detective: I was raised in Chicago, Memphis, Atlanta and Omaha. Now I live in Detroit with my native Detroit-er husband. I am often going to little stores to buy things like Tums and cigarettes. I have always called these places “convenience stores,” or, perhaps, “corner stores.” But my husband calls them “party stores.” Why does Michigan insist on calling these places “party stores”? Certainly, I understand that liquor, beer and smokes often lead to a party. Is the rest of the country just not having as much fun as Michigan? — Fritz.

I don’t know why Michigan calls them “party stores,” but it makes me want to move there. Our little town here in rural Ohio doesn’t even have a convenience store bodega08.pnganymore. A few years ago it was bought by a very nice man from Pakistan. I got along with him just fine, but apparently a critical mass of the locals decided that he was a one-man terrorist sleeper cell and boycotted him right out of business. I really wish I were making that up.

Regional dialectical variations such as “party store” for what the rest of us call a “carry-out” or “convenience store” are common in the US. There’s even an organization dedicated to studying the phenomenon (the American Dialect Society) and an ongoing scholarly project, the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) cataloging local lingo in minute detail. Michigan shares many of the variations of what linguists call the Inland North along with Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin. Things get a bit weirder as you travel north in Michigan, where the residents of the Upper Peninsula (known as “Yoopers” from the initials UP) exhibit a vocabulary, phonological intonations and habits (especially ending sentences with “eh?”) more often associated with Canada.

Back at “party store,” I’d imagine the name arose because such places are where you buy the ingredients of an informal party, as opposed to the supermarket where one does “serious” food shopping (i.e., beyond beef jerky and cheese popcorn). In my ancestral home of New York City, such a little shop is known as a “bodega” (boh-DAY-guh), from the Spanish meaning “wine shop,” derived in turn from the Greek “apotheke,” store or depot, which also gave us “apothecary,” an old-fashioned name for a drugstore.

As to why “party store” became popular in Michigan and not in, say, Georgia, I’d chalk it up to pure happenstance, unless Michiganders really are having more fun than the rest of us.

5 comments to Party Store

  • When I moved from rural California to Orange County in the 1980s I found that convenience stores were frequently called “junior markets” as opposed to supermarkets, I suppose. The locution has since seemingly disappeared though you can still see it on a few old signs.

    I also thought it interesting when I went to Saigon to find out that sieu nhan (see-oo nyuhn), the Vietnamese for supermarket, literally translates as — super market.

  • Jane

    In Michigan, we really do have more fun!

  • Humane Cannonball

    A party store may be a convenience store, but not all convenience stores are party stores.

    What sets a party store apart is that it has a license to sell liquor, beer and wine. Carry-out liquor licenses are much more rare and much more expensive than a simple beer and wine license. Where any 7-11 can get a beer and wine license, I can’t think of a single national convenience store chain whose stores have liquor licenses in Michigan. Over the last few decades, however, carry-out liquor licenses have been granted to grocery stores and, iirc, pharmacies (think CVS and Walgreens). I don’t know if it’s the state, county or city that sets this rule, but here in Grand Rapids, a store with a carry-out liquor license must be a mile from any other store with a carry-out liquor license.

    That said, we save “party store” for mom ‘n’ pop shops, what much of the rest of America would call a liquor store.

  • Humane Cannonball

    Also, the Yooper dialect is heavily influenced by Finnish, Finns (along with Welsh and Italians) landing in the Western U.P.’s mining country in the 19th and early 20th Century. While the Finns were in mining country, their influence spread throughout the peninsula. The accent has a lot of Finnish, but there are also quirks like the way that the preposition “to”, which doesn’t have a counterpart in Finnish, is dropped in the Yooper dialect. My grandparents were born and raised in Gladstone (think “suburban Escanaba”) before they moved down to Muskegon, and they’d say things like, “I’m going store,” and “We moved down Muskegon in 1940.” Neither of them had a drop of Finnish blood in their veins.

  • Bradical

    @HumaneCannonball I’m from metro Detroit and we have 7-11s all over the place that sell liquor and there are often times multiple liquor license-holding party stores at the same corner.

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