What’s your poison? I usually navigated toward bourbons and scotch (sometimes with a Coke Zero if I was feeling particularly intricate), but when it was time for a new episode of Real Housewives? A bottle of the best Rosé Target had to offer — ice cold, hold the glass.
I haven’t had a drink with alcohol in it since August 2020, and honestly I don’t think about it much. Having a partner who is also sober doesn’t hurt, although it does mean that between the both of us we drink at least a pallet or two of seltzer a month. There are worse problems to be had, I’m sure.
Living in a college city that also has one of the highest numbers of millennials moving to town aside from Baltimore also means that if you just close your eyes and throw a rock in any direction, there are a plethora of options where you can find yourself a spirited beverage. However, for many like myself, that also means that there are not many places to have anything other than water or coffee, unless you’re a soda drinker.
Cue the newest shop to enter Carytown’s shopping district. Point 5, opened by Jody Short, is the first sober bottle shop to open in Richmond, and one of few on the east coast. Options have sprung up here and there around the country, including in Houston and on the West Coast, as well as a handful in New York. Altogether, as of right now, there are roughly 20 dry bars in the country, with the first one opening in Austin about five years ago.
The name Point 5 references the maximum ABV level that a drink is allowed to have while still being deemed non-alcoholic. Whatever your drink of choice is, Short has a variation with a sober equivalent. Whether you engaged in heated red vs white wine debates or enjoyed winding down at the end of a hot summer day with a gin and tonic, there is a perfect dupe for what you usually kept on hand.
Point 5 is something that has been on Short’s mind for awhile, and to get started, she visited a few sober bottle shops in New York to do her research on what products she enjoyed and ultimately how to make them more accessible to sober and sober curious folks in Richmond.
“I wanted something that was more accessible, so that people could see what it was like before they buy it,” said Short. “I visited all of those [shops in New York], and came back home.”
Aside from the obvious health benefits associated with cutting back on or eliminating alcohol consumption, a big reason why non-alcoholic options are starting to get popular is due to their health benefits. Those include significantly less calories and sugar, more vitamins and minerals, and helping your sleep cycle. One of the biggest things I noticed about a non-alcoholic wine I tried was that it was a white tea. It was a sparkling white tea, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t taste identical to my favorite rosé.
“Even though Covid is still very much around, with things being reopened I do think that people have come out of it hoping to be a little bit healthier,” said Short. “Everything non-alcoholic is lower sugar, lower calorie. A lot of the ingredients are actually very good for you, because they have benefits. We’ve had so many people in here, and I’m so grateful for the response we have had. Folks who are thankful that we opened, and just wanting to cut back a little bit. Maybe during the week have a little white wine, a little of our wine.”
There could be any number of reasons why a sober bottle shop hadn’t opened in Richmond before Point 5 came along. Since we’re a city willing to try just about anything, it doesn’t necessarily follow. But the honest answer is probably that there is still a fair amount of cultural disapproval of people choosing not to drink.
“There is still such a stigma to people not drinking,” said Short. “This stigma is that you’ve had to hit some sort of rock bottom in order to stop drinking. And I think that’s getting less [true], but up til this point, I don’t think the options have been there. The options that were there were pretty crummy. Mocktails were not a good adult beverage, in my opinion. I think a lot of people are also realizing that the options taste good now, and I can use one of these options and make a drink that marks the end of your day. You still have that ritual. They still taste the same, and you’re not missing out.”
Short is nothing if not passionate about education. She not only takes it upon herself to learn as much as possible, but is always available to answer questions to anyone coming into the shop. One of her goals is to encourage bars and restaurants to have more dry options available.
“One of my things is really to have bars and restaurants have more options available,” said Short. “During the week, maybe you want a drink, and then, if you have the option, to have something non-alcoholic for your second drink, or your third drink. The idea isn’t to quit drinking altogether, just be a little bit mindful about the drinks you are having.”
Without question, we all have our evening ritual in some form. If it involves drinking, having a sober option to replace the spirited version helps you enjoy the flavor without some of the negative side effects, such as headaches or sleeplessness.
There are other health-related reasons why a person might appreciate the option of non-alcoholic beverages — including one that most people rarely consider. “A huge percentage of people who come in here are pregnant people,” said Short. “You want the taste and the feelgood, without the alcohol negatively impacting you.”
Short also emphasizes her appreciation for the amount of support she has received from the community so far. Richmond tends to love supporting a small business however we can. What’s noteworthy, though, is that a lot of traffic for Point 5 has come from word of mouth. During my visit to the store, I overheard customers mentioning that they had come from as far north as Staunton and Northern Virginia to visit the shop.
Another surprising source of support and recommendation has been the local ABC store. “A bunch of people went into the ABC store looking for non-alcoholic options, and they said ‘No, we don’t, but Point 5 just opened down the road,’” said Short. “I just thought that was so cool.”
It’s clear that Short is passionate about Point 5. She was beaming as told me of the ideas and hopes she has for the future of her business, including selling mixed drinks. She’s already a little ways toward that goal; she’s happy to pour a sample from her sample table for you if you ask. Best thing I sampled: a hard tie between Free Spirits’ bourbon and anything from Bonbuz.
Short hopes that if nothing else, whether folks go completely sober or still enjoy a cocktail here and there, they become just a little more mindful of their drinking habits, and maybe try switching it up every now and then. However, I still would have been remiss not to ask her the biggest question on my mind: what is her current go-to drink?
Point 5 is located at 3435 W Cary St, and is open from Tuesday through Saturday 11am to 6pm, Sunday 12pm-5pm, and closed on Mondays.
All Photos by Ash Griffith