Opinion and Editorials

EDITORIAL: Legislature isn't in protection game

February 2, 2013

Try as we might, we just don’t get it.

Oh, we understand why liquor store owners don’t want Indiana lawmakers to lift long-standing restrictions on Sunday alcohol sales. There’s little doubt the state’s ban on most carryout sales helps them manage costs and stave off competition from big-box retailers. They admit as much (among other rationale).

What we have trouble wrapping our collective minds around is why our elected officials continue to give package stores a legislative leg up.

Enough already. It is way past time to do away with Indiana’s Prohibition-era liquor laws.

The issue has come up repeatedly in the General Assembly, only to be shot down amid impassioned appeals from the liquor store lobby.

This year, Sen. Phil Boots of Crawfordsville and Rep. Sean Eberhart of Shelbyville, both Republicans, authored bills that would allow Sunday carryout sales at grocery, convenience and liquor stores—a move Boots said could bring in $10 million a year in additional tax revenue.

Opponents question such estimates, saying there’s no evidence that consumers buy more alcohol when it is available every day. In a best-case scenario, they contend, the same sales are spread over a longer week, increasing costs but not revenue.

But liquor stores’ real fear is that allowing carryout sales on Sundays—traditionally the second-busiest day of the week for grocery shopping—would send customers to their competitors.

“For us, this is about survival in the face of unfair and unrelenting competition from big-box stores like Walmart that seek to use their size, their buying power and their marketing to destroy our industry,” lobbyist John Livengood told members of a 2009 legislative study committee.

Livengood, president of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, said Indiana is one of only a handful of states that have a strong, privately owned package store industry—in large part because of the Sunday sales ban.

Loosening regulations would put that at risk, he said, devaluing existing package store permits and potentially leading to fewer choices for consumers.

We feel their pain. We really do. We just don’t think lawmakers should be providing protection to liquor stores or any other business.

Giant retail chains are a threat to all independent businesses. Just ask the folks that used to run your neighborhood hardware store or that mom-and-pop coffee shop down the street.

The strong survive by offering shoppers more than convenience. Factors like service and selection go a long way toward creating satisfied customers—with no legislative involvement required.•

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