Warring Indiana alcohol lobbyists reach deal on Sunday sales

Posted at 4:55 PM, Nov 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-10 19:55:50-05

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Two powerful lobbying groups that have scuttled attempts to legalize carryout Sunday alcohol sales in Indiana with their past disagreements announced a deal Friday that could clear a path forward.

The Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers and the Indiana Retail Council said in a joint news release that they have resolved differences that previously led state lawmakers to give up on efforts to overturn the Prohibition-era Sunday carryout sales ban.

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But the new alliance has apparently created an enemy — the gas station lobby. And it’s unclear whether lawmakers will agree to go along with their proposal during the legislative session that starts in January.

“How credible can these groups be when just six months ago each made opposite claims?” said Scott Imus, executive director of the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association. That “type of backroom gamesmanship and hypocrisy is exactly what the public despises.”

Under the agreement, liquor store owners represented by the beverage association will drop their opposition to Sunday sales, which they previously argued would allow grocery stores to siphon away business on a major shopping day. In return, retailers will oppose a proposal that would allow convenience and grocery stores to sell cold beer.

“The package liquor store industry along with our friends at the Indiana Retail Council are committed to working directly with legislators to successfully draft and pass meaningful and impactful public policy that will allow Hoosiers to purchase alcohol for carryout on Sundays for the first time since Prohibition,” said Jon Sinder, chairman of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers.

Gas stations and grocery stores in Indiana can sell warm beer and chilled wine. But the right to sell carryout cold beer primarily belongs to liquor stores, whose owners have used their considerable clout to keep it that way.

But that was upended last year when Jay Ricker, the owner of Ricker’s convenience stores, found a loophole. He started serving burritos at two stores, enabling him to obtain an alcohol license typically reserved for restaurants.

That set him up to sell carryout cold beer — until lawmakers intervened.

They passed legislation last spring that Ricker says will make it virtually impossible to renew his licenses.

But the issue has persisted. Lawmakers have spent several months reviewing the state’s alcohol code to see what changes they may want to make when the session convenes.

The public opinion appears to support both Sunday alcohol sales and allowing more places to sell cold beer.

A recent Ball State University poll conducted by the Bowen Center for Public Affairs found 61 percent of Indiana residents polled think convenience and grocery stores should be able to sell cold beer.

The same poll found that 58 percent of those surveyed believe carryout alcohol sales should be allowed on Sunday.