In March 2013 the idea of documenting America’s Liquor Stores emerged. It was when I did some long exposure Photographs for another project entitled ‘Sister Cities Berlin:LA’, among them one of my local Liquor Store in the Marina. Not only did I have a peculiar fondness for the sheer look of them but I was also intrigued by the amount of stores in my area, and the diverse range of people that would go there – whether it was for the occasion of celebrating or drowning their sorrows in alcohol – young and old people, from all ethnical and social backgrounds.
I came to the conclusion that I wanted to do Series about Liquor Stores around the country while talking to owners, customers, and locals alike. It would give me the broadest spectrum and deepest insights about all the colours, cultures, and personalities of people that convey the ‘The American Dream’ – or maybe look to at it from a different point of view.
On a side note, I also learned about the Liquor Laws, and the hundreds of rules and exemptions that come with it. You may find yourself in a State where there’s 24 hour selling and consumption of Liquor, and the next moment you’re in a Dry County. You may find a handful of Liquor Stores within two blocks of driving, but unable to purchase anything cause it’s sunday – or past 7pm. Sometimes you won’t find any Stores at all, cause the State only allows a certain number of them per capita. And when you finally spot one, they are State owned institutions that have the sole right to sell Liquor – A myriad of rules and restrictions to sell liquor in the United States of America.
I started my Journey in January 2014 in Los Angeles, California. It would take me to the East Coast and back West – 30,000km through about 37 States in approximately 100 days – returning with over a hundred Liquor Stores and countless portraits shot, leaving me with a broader vision about what and who makes this country the land of dreams, whether they may be intact or broken..
This was one of the first Stores I shot. I knew I wanted to have that one as part of this Series as it used to be my local Market when I lived in that neighbourhood (Mar Vista/LA). It’s located in a quiet residential area and I always thought the mural on the store front made it very ‘inviting’. You get the ‘this is where the old school locals go buy their beer’ – vibe.
Located on the world famous Pacific Highway in North County San Diego in Surfer town called Encinitas – a place I called home when I first moved to the States. I had never noticed the store back then. The Store owner are two young brothers with roots in Iraq. It was very inspiring to hear them talk about putting all their energy and money into their dream of owning their own Store. There’s hardship due to the competition of the Big Boys ( Alcohol Sale in California is not exclusive to Liquor Stores but any Store. So naturally it’s available cheaper at Vons and other Corporate Markets ) yet they seem to have a loyal following in the community. They put a lot of thought into their selection and love into presenting it. The Store is their life and running it is their dream come true.
One of my favourites in the Californian Desert. It’s a spot-on representation of what Yucca Valley comes off as : a rather grim place in the desert that may be exciting in a way for an artist like me passing through but not when you call it a permanent home. I went inside to talk to the guy working there but wasn’t welcome upon stepping in. When I mentioned the project I was working on I was asked to leave NOW so I did – but I think the image of the Store speaks for itself.
This sparkly gem of a Liquor Store stands out in an area that is anything else but sparkly – there’s honestly not much growing and in existing in deserted Hawthorne, NV ( nor close by – except a major Army base ) and I only stopped there to get gas. Obviously, I was delighted to find this Store. It almost seemed like a piece of Art to me. Very ’Nevadian’, also because it had a handful of slot machines inside. A great find indeed.
My favourite in the Highlands of New Mexico between Santa fe and Taos. I gained some great insights about the Liquor Store history and laws in New Mexico talking to the store owner who’s been running it for 50 years. A very friendly man who made clear how Corporate chains destroyed small Business owners livelihood. The only reason who could still afford running his store was his passion for it and the fact he’s had some other Business Ventures going since back in the day.
Louisville, Kentucky may have been my last favourite major city on my 39 State Trip through the US, and this Liquor Store pretty much summed up my short experience there. Located in one of the notorious most dangerous areas – I was sworn at by the owner and kicked out of the store. They work behind bullet proof windows which gave me a feel of the area I was in.
A typical Brooklyn Liquor Store. Artsy, high end selections of Wine & Liquor and stellar presentation. The guy who was working there and I took a portrait of was a young Italian who definitely had the knowledge of what the store was selling. A whole different Liquor Store experience to me. They even have weekly Wine Tastings with DJ’s and Live Music.
Right outside of a surreal town called Frankenmuth in Michigan. A town they consider the ‘Bavaria of the US’ but to me it was more reminiscent of Disney Land than anything else. Still, when I talked to locals they all agreed that it was an oasis in the middle of a crime ridden area – with Saginaw to the North and former ‘murder capital’ Flint to the South.
One of many abandoned Stores in the decay of Detroit, MI. This one is located in the 8 Mile area of the city.
A store in the middle of the plain lands of Kansas – on long stretches of driving I always anticipated unique stores like this when I approached small towns.
Seen and snapped in the Artist community of Manitou Springs, Colorado. The look of the store matches the energy field of the town perfectly. It’s located almost walking distance from the ‘Garden of the gods’, a magical place of stunning Red Rocks where locals go on their daily run.
I stopped at this Store right after a day trip at Rocky Mountain National Park. The guy running the store was a Navy Seal for 20 years, and this was his ‘dream after discharge’. A kind and open minded man who’s always accompanied at his store by a Yorkshire Terrier.
The final store I shot for the Series when I got back to Los Angeles after being on the road for almost 4 months. Taken in San Pedro I remember thinking to myself: ‘ WOW – this one pretty much sums up my entire project. Liquor in conjunction with Religion’. Cause those are the two things you will encounter in every little town you go to: Churches and Liquor Stores. Sometimes on the same street corner..
Before his relocation back to Europe, swiss born Photographer Marc Gruninger (www.marcgruninger.com) had been shooting in and out of Los Angeles for seven years, working with musicians and actors, including Snoop Dogg, Terence Howard, Luke Hemsworth, Sung Kang, and Australian Neo-Psychedelic legends The Church. He created his first of many Fine Art Photo Series in 2012 – among them the Berlin based projects ‘Hinterhof’ (www.hinterhof.info) and ’Sister Cities Berlin:LA (www.sistercitiesberlinla.info) and The Liquor Store Series (www.theliquorstoreseries.com), a project that had him drive 30,000km through 38 States in 100 days. He currently lives and works out of Berlin, Germany.