Today I went with my dad grocery shopping at a supermarket in New York (ShopRite) and he put a six-pack of beer in the cart.

They then wouldn’t let him buy the beer because they couldn’t ID me (21, but I dress for work so I look more like 25). Even when I left the store to wait in the car they made him check out at a different register.

Is this legal? I wasn’t buying anything; I was just helping him load stuff onto the conveyor belt.

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    In the UK if you look under 25 (the legal drinking age is 18) you are required to prove your age and it is clearly written in large signs inside the shops. I was ID'd when aged 35. Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 7:41
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    Hi, and welcome to law.SE! Your question contained some details that are not relevant (such as why you do not like to carry a wallet). I edited these out to make the question more focussed and suitable for the site. Also, I added a tag to indicate this is in the US, since legal questions depend on jurisdiction. Feel free to re-edit if there is something wrong!
    – sleske
    Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 7:45
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    From the store's perspective, you're not an adult, you're a possible minor. Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 12:42
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    This is weird and happens in Texas too. Parents can buy wine when their 5 year old is in tow, can legally let their kids drink at home with them, can LEGALLY let restaurants serve alcohol to their underage kids when the parent is with them in the restaurant! but if their kids look over 10 they can't sell the parent alcohol at a store unless they leave their kids out in the hot car. Lawmakers are nuts now.
    – mark b
    Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 17:55
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    @VladimirF This question is not about the purchaser's age or ID / lack of ID. It is about the lack of ID of someone accompanying the purchaser. Nothing about that scenario is clearly written on shop signs.
    – JBentley
    Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 2:28

4 Answers 4


It is legal, at least in the US, for a store (or other entity) to refuse to sell any item to any individual for any non-prohibited reason (prohibited reasons are typically things like race or religion).

More over, in various US jurisdictions, it is prohibited to "furnish" alcohol to a "minor" (for example, under California's ABC law), which can be interpreted as prohibiting to an adult if they reasonably suspect that adult will pass the alcohol onto the "minor". This is to prevent "straw" sales.

Additionally, larger chains generally prefer to have harmonized policies across branches, and where practical, across state lines, so will have policies that can accomodate multiple alcohol control regimes.

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    See above: Any "non-prohibited" reason. If there is a prohibition against discrimination in sexual orientation (which I believe Washington State had at the time), then it would be illegal to refuse to sell for that reason. The legal rationale that led to the appeals up to the Supreme Court, as I recall, had to do with whether the wedding cake (which apparently are always made-to-order) transaction was a sale(where discrimination would be illegal), or a contract (where it would be legal). But I may be wrong about that last bit.
    – sharur
    Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 23:39
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    It's not just a "can be interpreted". Some jurisdictions specifically include it as a reason to deny sales; others recommend or even require age ID for all persons who look less than a certain age (which is often much higher than the legal minimum); and others still apply these requirements to all persons in a party where any attempt to purchase alcohol (i.e. everybody has to pass together or nobody can).
    – user4657
    Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 4:55
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    @orlp - this may be the case, but aside from whether age is a protected class in non-employment legislation, the product in question is age-controlled, so the store's defence could be that they are attempting to comply with the legislation. This would be especially the case if the law includes something like sharur mentions in the second paragraph.
    – Myles
    Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 12:17
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    @LouisaCarlson you should read the full story of that debacle, it wasn't as clear cut as that one liner.
    – the_lotus
    Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 12:18
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    @zakinster From my own experience working at a liquor store. If you brought true kids into the store we would usually sell to customers still, however, if they came in with college age kids we did refuse them. Usually around graduation times and when we had to worry about police stings. The worry was over teens asking a passing adult to 'be their dad for 5 minutes' for exactly the purpose of getting alcohol underage
    – Red Mage
    Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 12:23

You go into a store, pick up an item, go to the counter and you think you are legally entitled to own the item provided that you pay for it? Wrong. Wrong for any item, not just alcohol.

Items that are on the shelves in stores are not offers in terms of contract law. They are invitations to treat/bargain. When you take an item to the counter it is you who makes an offer to pay for it. And the store is free to accept or reject your offer.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dale M
    Commented Sep 30, 2019 at 0:43

The answers here are already correct, but wanted to make a quick comment over this

Even when I left the store to wait in the car they made him check out at a different register.

It is of course completely silly that this is required, but from what I was told when I worked at a liquor store this was needed. The idea is by checking out at a different register with a different cashier it passes liability over to the customer if anything bad was happening. The original cashier already knows that Person A came in with Person B who could not be properly ID'd, so even if Person B leaves, OG Cashier is obligated to refuse sales to Person A. Switching over to a new lane meant Person A was now in a 'new' interaction with New Cashier who has no knowledge of Person B and would not be knowingly making 'straw sales' as @sharur mentioned.

Things always got interesting when the adult got annoyed with their 'kid' for wasting more of their time and said they are charging them more. And then they got really confused when we refused any further sales at all....

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    This does not shift liability in any way. If the cashier knows Person A could not produce ID and are aware Person B is still in the store, they are obligated to inform their colleague of the matter and still refuse sale. Liability only disappears if the other cashier had no knowledge of the previous interaction and the previous cashier was unable to inform them. To explicitly tell them to try a different register is a blatant violation of ID protocols.
    – animuson
    Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 23:57
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    @animuson If you'd like to get that technical, then it does shift some liability over to OG Cashier as an accomplice to a crime being committed by Person A. The store's liquor license will still be at risk, but depending on prior infractions it may not be revoked immediately and they could discipline (probably fire) the employee and make a case for keeping it.
    – Red Mage
    Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 12:29

It's not just legal, but often (depending on the state/county) legally required, otherwise they would be considered 'negligent' in helping providing a minor with alcohol, which can get them in jail.

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    So families in the USA buying groceries with the entire family cannot buy alcohol or tobacco if accompanied by their children?
    – gerrit
    Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 7:35
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    @gerrit Depending on the state, yes that's right. Some states have extremely restrictive regulations regarding alcohol. Remember, this is a country that edited its Constitution to make the production, sale and consumption of alcohol illegal. And then changed it back again... Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 11:10
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    @gerrit At least one state went further (Maryland) and decided to just ban grocery stores from selling alcohol at all. Dad or Mom has to go next door to the liquor store.
    – pboss3010
    Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 11:19
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    @pboss3010 I don't agree that banning grocery stores from selling (strong) alcohol (which exists in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, among other places) goes further than banning minors from accompanying adults when adults buy alcohol. Unless you're saying that minors are prohibited from even entering those liquor stores, such that a lone parent with a toddler cannot buy alcohol there. Do those liquor stores have to check the ID of everybody who enters and leaves the shop, or only of those who buy anything?
    – gerrit
    Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 11:31
  • @gerrit If it helps, this craziness wasn't caused by the scenarios here. Overly strict politicians got upset that 21-25 yr olds were buying alcohol that the 16-20 yr olds would hand select at a store and immediately start consuming once the 'adult' had purchased it. So yes, when I saw 4 kids walk in and select a variety of alcohol when I worked at a liquor store I would need to card all 4 of them. Usually 2 of them would leave while the other 2 purchased and then lied saying they had no idea who those others were. We would ask for their IDs anyways and end up refusing the entire sale
    – Red Mage
    Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 12:37

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