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.

2 comments on this post.
  1. Joyce Melton:

    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.

  2. Jane:

    In Michigan, we really do have more fun!

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