Contrary to a persistent myth among customers and clerks, there's no state law requiring vendors to put beer, wine or liquor in a bag at sale.
"No such law," said Bob Stocks, the assistant director over training for the N.C. Division of Alcohol Law Enforcement.
"I've been here 26 years," Stocks said. "I've been battling that (myth) for that long."
Some stores have their own policy requiring bagging, and many clerks seem to think there's an actual law, Stocks said. But it's simply not the case.
The same goes for liquor, no matter what message that ubiquitous brown bag sends.
"There is no law that requires it," said Agnes Stevens, spokeswoman for the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, which oversees ABC liquor stores throughout North Carolina.
The commission's local iteration, the Triad Municipal ABC Board, bags bottles anyway. But that's just procedure, not a requirement, Board Administrator Greg Bradsher said.
"That's more of our test for proof of purchase, along with the element of confidentiality of what the consumer has purchased," Bradsher said.
That's a common reason for bagging one item at a time, even if it has its own handle: to show it's been paid for. Others said the belief that there's a state law at work is probably a vestige of quasi-out-dated blue laws, or just an excuse to give customers a little privacy.
"A lot of people take things too seriously," said Spencer Davis, whose family owns City Beverage in downtown Winston-Salem. "Alcohol is one of them."
Davis said he encourages folks not to use a bag if they don't need one, to save material and money.
"People are like, 'Oh, no, I've got to have a bag to leave, right?'" he said.
Chain grocery stores generally bag items — alcoholic or not — by default, but they don't necessarily have a policy on beer and wine. Lowes Food Stores, based in Winston-Salem, considers bagging optional, spokeswoman Beth Talley said.
Yet the idea persists among some clerks that they don't have a choice.
"Maybe they see somebody else do it, or they hear somebody else say that they have to put it in a bag, and then it just kind of trickles down," Talley said.