An increasing number of lawmakers and leaders in the alcohol industry are getting behind the idea of changing the state’s alcohol laws. The two main issues are Sunday sales and cold beer sales.
A legislative commission tasked with studying the state’s alcohol rules is beginning to prepare its recommendations for the General Assembly.
The big challenge is how to draft legislation that doesn’t favor one type of store over the other.
Liquor Store Owner: Cold Beer Sales Are Real Threat
The owner of Hoosier Buddy Liquors is in a unique position. Jeff Davis’ store sits in the small town of Nashville, a community where tourists spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year. And his liquor store is the only one in town. But, right next door sits a CVS Pharmacy, which also sells alcohol.
“[They're] our biggest competitor on price especially,” Davis says.
While CVS may be able to sell its beer, wine and liquor with minimal markup, Davis has a different advantage. The beer he sells is already cold.
“Sunday sales might be an inconvenience, but cold sales in those other stores would very nearly kill the independent liquor stores in Indiana,” he says.
Indiana only allows liquor stores to sell cold beer, but it’s one of many laws a special alcohol code revision commission is considering changing. Members are tasked with examining several aspects of the state’s alcohol laws, including the prohibition on Sunday sales and issues with obtaining alcohol permits.
Commission Considers Changes To Long List Of State’s Alcohol Laws
The commission met for the fifth time this week and former Indiana Excise Police Officer Terry Bauer outlined his proposal for changing some of the decades-old rules. He wants to allow liquor, grocery and convenience stores to sell alcohol on Sundays – but keep cold beer sales confined to liquor stores.
“All permit holders by my suggestions will have new opportunities for sales and the playing field will be considerably leveled,” Bauer says.
“I just don’t know that it is the proper role of the legislature to choose to protect one segment of the industry and not provide the same kind of protection to someone else …”
Under Bauer’s proposal, the stores could sell alcohol from noon to 7 p.m. on Sundays. But pharmacies would have to put all alcoholic beverages in an area that’s separate from other products. They would also have to provide a separate check out station for alcohol.
And he wants all clerks that ring up alcohol to be at least 21 years old and have a liquor permit.
Bauer says the changes would result in new revenue for each type of store, but some commission members question that claim.
“I just don’t know that it is the proper role of the legislature to choose to protect one segment of the industry and not provide the same kind of protection to someone else or not allow the same benefit to someone else in the business,” says Randall Woodruff, an attorney serving on the commission.
And others still argue expanding the sale of beer, wine and liquor too broadly could be harmful to Hoosiers.
“I’m not opposed to some of what we’re talking about, even the Sunday sales issue and that,” says Rep. Matt Lehman (R-Berne). “But, the more we make this a commodity like any other, the more we’re going to create more social problems.”
The commission also discussed changes to other laws regarding direct wine sales and repurposing expired alcohol for agricultural purposes. Some worry members cast the net too wide and won’t have enough time to address the biggest issues.
“There’s certainly some high-profile issues out there: Sunday sales, cold beer, how products are displayed, auctioning permits, a number of issues,” says Commission Chair Beverly Gard, a former state senator. “I would not want to speculate on how the commission will decide to approach each one of those.”
Davis says he has his own ideas for what legislators should focus their attention on. If they’re considering expanding alcohol sales, he hopes they’ll also discuss other changes that could level the playing field for liquor stores like his own.
“They should lift the restrictions on the things I should sell and also to lift the law that states you have to be 21 to come in here,” Davis says. “Because I think it’s quite hypocritical that they can’t come in here but they can do whatever they want in a Kroger or Walmart surrounded by the same products.”
Davis says his business will be OK if a Sunday sales bill makes its way to the governor’s desk. It’s what could come after that – changes to selling cold alcohol – that worries him.
“I might be able to survive it, but my business approach would have to change,” he says.
The commission is supposed to deliver its recommendations to legislators, as well as draft bills, by December. It’s scheduled to meet at least two more times before then.