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.

No Given Sunday (in Indiana)

louisville beer - no given sundayBack in the late 1990s when I was a reporter and page designer for Louisville Eccentric Observer (now known as LEO Weekly), I had to work every Sunday morning/afternoon in preparation for Tuesday’s deadline. During football season, my routine was to go home afterward and watch football the rest of the day with a six-pack of beer at my side.

But in those days, I lived in Jeffersonville, Ind. This meant making sure I stopped in downtown Louisville to get beer before crossing the river after work, because everyone in the Midwest knows you can’t buy beer on Sunday in Indiana. (Yes, I am one of those who has experienced going to Mike Walsh Liquor & Beer on Market on a Sunday afternoon, and noting that three fourths of the vehicles bore Indiana plates. Shame the Louisville Beer Store wasn’t around back then.)

This year, a bill was proposed in Indiana that would have allowed Sunday alcohol sales at grocery stores and other retail shops, but Rep. Bill Davis, chairman of the House Public Policy Committee, wouldn’t let a committee vote on it. And so, my Hoosier friends will continue to envy me the fact I can, after 1 p.m., buy beer on any given Sunday.

What is particularly annoying, I think, is that Indiana’s continued refusal to allow Sunday sales, along with cold beer sales in grocery stores and convenience stores, has nothing to do with the Sabbath and antiquated ideals, but rather everything to do with the special interests of the package liquor store lobby, which has deep connections with members of the Indiana General Assembly. It isn’t about God; quite simply, the liquor stores are afraid of the competition.

“Allowing Sunday sales would be a slow death,” Raymond Cox, owner of Elite Beverages, told The Indianapolis Star. “Allowing cold beer would put us out of business overnight.”

Here’s what I have to say about that: I live in a Louisville neighborhood that has a Kroger, multiple convenience stores, and a CVS where one can easily buy cold beer and (at the drugstores, at least) wine and liquor, on any given day, including Sunday. And yet, Gary’s Liquors, which is surrounded by these businesses, continues to thrive, even adding a drive-through lane within the last two years.

Are Kentucky and Indiana apples and oranges? I have to believe Gary’s survives by offering a wider selection of craft beers, quality wine and liquor. Unlike at Kroger, Thornton’s or CVS, which typically carry big distributor brands only, I can walk into Gary’s and know I can pick up a six-pack of Falls City or Bluegrass Brewing Company beers. (And really, even with Kroger’s mix-and-match deal, wherein you make your own six-pack of “craft” beers, one of the choices is Landshark. The hell?)

Well, this long-running idiocy (five decades and counting), as you probably have already heard, has prompted a lawsuit. Not sure you can fight a state government leaders who have an agenda, but it will be interesting to see if this gets anywhere. Past efforts have been similarly stifled, although at least they gave Hoosiers a way to get a growler to go on Sundays, so maybe there’s hope for change.

Meantime, my condolences continue to go out to my Indiana friends who may want to enjoy a six-pack on a Sunday evening. Keep on doing your package beer shopping on Saturday, and keep those fingers crossed.