More on Indiana’s Fight Over Dry Sundays

louisville beer - no given sundayIn a recent post, I lamented the continued inability to purchase beer in Indiana on Sundays. I haven’t lived in Indiana in years, but I continue to feel my former Hoosier brethren’s pain when they want to buy a six-pack on any given Sunday. It simply can’t happen without bouncing across state lines.

NPR chimed in this week with an article that takes a similar stance to mine, focusing on the fact that it’s actually the liquor store owners who want Indiana to remain dry on Sunday, as well as wanting to keep cold alcohol sales exclusive to liquor stores. The liquor stores’ position is that Sunday is such a busy shopping day anyway that shoppers would simply by-pass their stores and simply pick up their beer at Wal-Mart or Kroger. Eventually, it would put these small operations out of business, since packaged beer sales are among their top revenue drivers.

Meanwhile, convenience store owners, who have filed a federal lawsuit after legislation to change the liquor laws failed yet again (it didn’t even make it to committee vote), are calling foul.

“You don’t have choice. You don’t have competition,” Scott Imus, who heads the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, told NPR. “We’ve done extensive price surveys at liquor stores and find that they add either $1 to $2 on a case of beer, on cold or warm. I mean, Subway doesn’t charge more to heat my sandwich.”

After I posted my thoughts on the matter, Todd Antz, who owns and operates the Keg Liquors in Clarksville and New Albany, sent me a private e-mail to set a few things straight on behalf of liquor store owners. Basically, changing the state’s liquor laws, he fears, would threaten to make Indiana liquor stores extinct, which is reasonable fear to have for a small business owner.

First off, he noted that this year’s legislation did not make it to a vote because there was so little support among lawmakers behind the proposed changes. “They did not want to embarrass the bill writers by having their bill slammed so badly,” Antz noted. “Happens all the time.”

While the Indianapolis Post editorial I referenced in my previous post called it out as special interest leverage behind the old laws staying intact, Antz said that notion “could not be further from the truth.”

He explains, “We do have a good working relationship with several members, but you have to remember that we are fighting the pockets of companies like Kroger, Wal-Mart, oil companies, Meijer, etc. Their pockets are insanely deeper than ours. They also do a heck of a marketing job, making it seem like we are the big boys keeping the common guy down from buying a six-pack, when all they are trying to do is kill off the small businesses. Liquor laws have protected us in ways the local grocery stores, pharmacies, and hardware store were not, and look where they are. All gone. It’s a simple power play that has not worked so far for them.”

Antz said the liquor store owners commissioned a study by a Ball State University economist in recent years that showed allowing Sunday sales alone would put 25 percent of the locally owned liquor stores out of business. Cold beer sales would equate to a 50 percent loss of those businesses, Antz said.

“Just the Sunday Sales alone would cost the state over 3,000 jobs,” Antz says.

When I suggested that stores like his, which are heavily involved in the community (see: Fest of Ale) and carry far more variety than a Kroger would ever stock, should be poised to survive the changes, Antz responded:

“As for variety in stock, we might survive the chains getting cold beer and Sunday sales, but it would surely hurt the bottom line. I use most of the money we make selling the domestic stuff to pay for rent, utilities, etc, and the craft products help with the extra things we do in the community. Take away the basics, and it makes life a lot tougher to do the extra stuff, and to simply take the money away from local businesses (you have to be an Indiana resident for 5 years to own a package store) and stick us with only chain alternatives.”

Fair points all. The convenience store trade group seeks declaratory judgment and injunctive relief to overturn the current laws, which have been in place since 1963. Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said he will argue that the law reflects the wishes of state lawmakers.

It will be interesting to see how the suit is settled. While it stinks for my Hoosier pals to not be able to buy package liquor on Sunday, I know they also wouldn’t want to see businesses like Antz’s be negatively impacted. Who would?

Maybe Hoosiers should simply go to their local Indiana brewery and pick up a growler, which actually is legal on Sunday. The beer is better than what they’d get at Thornton’s anyway.

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