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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Kroger spokesman John Elliott announces the grocery chain’s participation in the Alliance of Responsible Alcohol Retailers’ campaign to allow Sunday carry-out alcohol sales.

Repeal of alcohol blue laws sought

Group revives legislative push for Sunday carryout sales

– With more time to convince legislators during a budget year, a statewide coalition of drug, grocery and convenience stores is confident in repealing a law that bans the sale of alcohol at those businesses on Sundays.

The Alliance of Responsible Alcohol Retailers launched its “Change It Indiana” campaign in a series of events Monday, including one in Fort Wayne, calling Indiana blue laws antiquated and prohibitive of free trade.

It was announced in Indianapolis that convenience store owner Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, would sponsor a bill for the second year in a row calling for a change to the state law, which allows restaurants and bars to serve liquor on Sundays, but not other businesses.

In Fort Wayne, officials with the coalition said they were confident that a study showing Indiana losing close to $9 million in tax revenue to neighboring states would help change the law, especially in a budget year.

The coalition is also trying to change the law to allow cold beer to be sold at drug, grocery and convenience stores.

“We believe we’re going to take this issue to the next level,” said Matt Norris, director of Hoosiers for Beverage Choices.

Later, he added that $9 million is “just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the budget, but there are a lot of agencies that would love $9 million in extra funding.”

Norris called the revenue figure “conservative” and said it came from a study conducted by the Distilled Spirits Council, a national trade association that represents America’s leading distillers and nearly 70 percent of all brands of distilled spirits sold in the U.S., according to its website.

Norris’ organization is part of the coalition that for the past two years has been trying to change the Sunday sales of carryout alcohol, plus the tax on cold beer laws.

But the effort to make the change, as well as expand the sale of cold beer, has had little success in recent years.

Legislators on the Interim Study Committee on Alcoholic Beverage Issues worked for two years to examine about a dozen issues related to the sale and regulation of alcohol. The Sunday sales question dominated the discussion.

But in 2009, the legislative group voted 7-4 against the measure. The group also voted unanimously against expanding the sale of cold beer beyond package liquor stores.

Despite the opposing recommendations, Boots filed a bill last session to make the changes. It didn’t receive an initial hearing in the GOP-dominated Senate. Norris said a short legislative session hindered efforts.

The Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, an organization of liquor stores, is opposed to changing existing law. That organization argues that allowing drug, grocery or convenience stores to sell alcohol on Sundays as well as cold beer would put liquor stores at a disadvantage.

“Their goal is to put us out of business,” said Steve Kohrman, owner of Cedar Creek Carry-out in Grabill and Cedar Creek Beverage in Leo-Cedarville. “The Sunday sales might not do it, but the cold beer would.”

Kohrman, a member of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, said he has three people working at each store. The only day off they receive is Sunday, and being open then would not gain him additional sales. He said if the law changes, it would also offer the consumer fewer options.

Kohrman said he stocks microbrews and imports that cannot be found at other retail locations.

“Over the years, the groceries and pharmacies have whittled away the rules,” he said. “I’ve seen so many changes in the last 15 years. They’ve gotten everything they wanted.”

Monday’s event in Fort Wayne was held at the Kroger-owned Scott’s Food and Pharmacy at 4120 N. Clinton St.

Kroger is part of the coalition looking to change the blue laws and has taken more of a leadership role in the process, spokesman John Elliott said.

“It’s unusual for Kroger to take a stand on a legislative issue, but this one matters enough,” Elliott said.

Kroger’s inability to offer Sunday alcohol sales not only affects its customers, but employees as well, Elliott said, stressing that the grocery chain should be able to compete with liquor stores. That means being able to sell beer at the same temperature on the same days as liquor stores.

One customer shopping at the time of Monday’s event agreed with the coalition.

Chris Smith, a retired bank employee, said he has lived in Indiana for six years after stints in New Hampshire, Arizona, Massachusetts and Illinois. One of his first weekends in Indiana, he said he drove to Coldwater, Mich., to pick up beer for an unexpected party.

Indiana is one of 14 states that prohibit the carryout sale of alcohol on Sundays, according to officials backing the change.

“It’s a crazy law,” Smith said. “If (owners of liquor stores) don’t want to get up and work on Sundays, that’s their business.”

Norris said his organization has received many e-mails from people like Smith who don’t like the law, and that more than 48,000 Hoosiers during the past two years have signed an online petition in support of changing the law.

That petition can be found at www.changeitindiana.org.

jeffwiehe@jg.net

nkelly@jg.net

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