Indiana lawmakers push for Sunday alcohol sales

Lawmakers in the last state in the nation to bar retail alcohol sales on Sundays are making a push to lift the restriction, but strong opposition from liquor stores could leave Indiana's effort as flat as an open bottle of champagne.

Two bills introduced early in this legislative session aim to broaden a state law that currently restricts Sunday alcohol sales to restaurants, bars, breweries and wineries.

Indiana's ban on retail alcohol sales dates back to Prohibition. The sponsor of one bill said allowing Sunday carryout alcohol sales would bring in more tax revenue for the state, but liquor store owners contend their overhead costs would increase in order to staff their stores an extra day.

Liquor store owners also argue that allowing Sunday sales would essentially spread out six days' worth of sales over seven days and worry that more people would buy alcohol while shopping at grocery stores instead of making a trip to a liquor store.

"This state not allowing Sunday sales has kept us in business," said Jon Sinder, co-owner of Crown Liquors, a chain of Indianapolis-area stores. "In other states, you can't buy spirits at big-box retailers."

But Republican Sen. Phil Boots of Crawfordsville, who authored the Senate bill, said it's time for Indiana to adopt a free-enterprise mind-set. He also said the bill could be a money maker, bringing in $10 million annually if it passes.

"The state of Indiana has said it's OK to consume alcohol on Sunday but they've picked who the winners are and who the losers are," he said. "I think that it's time we become more competitive. Competition is not a bad thing. The liquor stores don't want to compete."

Liquor store owners say competition isn't their only concern. They contend their stores are more heavily regulated than big-box retailers and argue that the package liquor industry helps keep alcohol out of the hands of minors.

"All of our clerks are licensed and trained," Sinder said. "If we go, then the state becomes less safe."

Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, who authored the House bill, argues that Indiana's current law might be less responsible because it allows for Sunday carryout sales at restaurants.

"How silly is that that we allow somebody to drink and drive home but we don't allow somebody responsible to buy that alcohol on Sunday to take it home and enjoy it?" he asked.

Indiana has loosened its alcohol laws to promote tourism and economic development, Boots said. In 2010, lawmakers approved a bill that allows microbreweries to sell beer for carryout on Sundays.

But the effort to lift the Sunday sales ban has failed in recent years. Grocery stores hope 2013 is different, as Sundays are typically the second-biggest shopping day of the week.

John Elliott, a spokesman for grocery chain Kroger, said the ban is "a customer service problem."

"Every single Sunday, we've got customers who are disappointed that they cannot purchase this product. This is particularly a challenge in communities that have a heavy concentration of factory or shift workers," he said. "There are households that can only shop on Sunday."

Ray Cox, president of liquor store chain Elite Beverages, said Sunday retail alcohol sales are probably "not a big deal either way" to most consumers.

Jerry Owens, 44, of Indianapolis, said it's an inconvenience to not be able to buy alcohol on Sundays, but that people are familiar with the law and have to work around it.

"I don't see anything wrong with (the bills)," he said. "I'd buy beer on Sunday."

Eberhart is hopeful that the legislation will get enough support to make it out of committee. No date has been set for either bill.

"I think public opinion has changed over the years and we're a society now that we want convenience and speed," he said.

Eberhart noted that liquor stores wouldn't be required to open on Sundays, but said he thinks the decision should be left to the stores, not the state.

"I don't think it's the government's position to tell you when you can and can't sell your product," he said.

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