A convenience store chain's attempt to sell cold beer has prompted a heated reaction from Indiana lawmakers who want to keep a state law limiting carryout chilled brew sales to liquor stores.
Convenience stores in the state are able to sell warm beer or cold wine—but the sale of cold beer for carryout long has been reserved for Indiana's liquor stores, a right the industry's powerful lobbyists have fought to protect for years.
Indiana-based convenience store chain Ricker's bypassed that restriction by obtaining a license typically reserved for restaurants, after finding its in-store eateries offering burritos and other Mexican fare qualified it for the separate liquor license, said Jay Ricker, head of the company.
The strong reaction from lawmakers—with both House Speaker Brian Bosma and GOP Senate leader David Long calling for an amendment to be offered next week that prevents operations such as Ricker's from selling cold beer—isn't quite what the store chain expected.
"This is all about consumers wanting a product and us offering it," he said. "We're not trying to put somebody else out of business, we're just trying to offer what people want."
A spokeswoman for the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission declined to comment for this story, citing upcoming legislation on the issue. Republicans in the Statehouse haven't been shy commenting on the commission's decision.
"I think it is a misinterpretation of the law by the ATC. We want to make sure that stops right now," Long said Thursday. "I'm disappointed in the leadership in the ATC for having made these decisions. But we've got to deal with it now, and we will deal with it."
The Fort Wayne lawmaker said he expects an amendment to be introduced in a committee this week.
"We're going to change the law to what the law really is," Bosma said, adding the commission has "ignored longstanding policy" from the General Assembly, as well as past lawsuits.
Ricker's acquired the permits allowing for cold beer sales for two of its 56 locations in February. The Columbus location opened and began serving alcohol under the new license March 1, while the Sheridan location began its cold beer sales earlier this week.
Almost immediately the liquor lobby alerted lawmakers, Jay Ricker said.
A statement from the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers says the chain is "choosing to thumb their nose" at the Legislature and courts, citing a ruling that found the state could prohibit cold beer sales in convenience stores because they face fewer regulations than a liquor store.
Ricker and Scot Imus of the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association say they see the move to sell cold beer as a way of evolving to meet consumer's needs and survive in changing times.
Declining revenue from cigarettes and gasoline left Ricker looking for an additional source of income, he said, and a popular ask from customers at his in-store restaurants was, "Gee, I'd really like to have a cold beer with our food."
"Businesses change and they've had to change," Imus said. "I can't think of one retailer that's been able to survive and keep current that hasn't changed, except one: the package liquor store industry."