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SINDER: Ricker’s ‘restaurant’ is unfair interpretation of alcohol laws

April 15, 2017

SinderEveryone has seen the headlines and breathless opinion pieces. Never mind the critical issues facing our state: infrastructure, tax reform, addiction—step aside. Jay Ricker, famously known as the owner of a chain of gas stations and convenience stores, stood up to the Legislature and found a way to do the impossible: Sell hard liquor and cold beer in gas stations.

Hoosiers rejoiced; he cracked the code! Or so it seemed. Maybe the celebration is a bit premature. Let’s start from the beginning.

Ricker’s end-around of long-established state law is not a one-time occurrence; it is instead just the latest in a years-long battle to fix the game in a way that would favor his business.

For years, Ricker and teams of lobbyists went to the Statehouse to make their case to legislators and their efforts failed. Unable to convince legislators, he then lawyered up and sued the state of Indiana in state courts, where he lost. Unable to convince the state courts, he sued in federal court, where he lost on summary judgment. Unable to convince the federal courts, he then appealed the ruling, where he lost once again.

Normally in Indiana, four straight losses means you just got swept in a playoff series. Not for Ricker. After consecutive defeats in the Legislature, then state court, then federal court, and then in the federal appeals court, Ricker refused to take his proverbial ball and go home. Instead, he took matters into his own hands.

Rejecting decades of established law that specifically bars the sale of hard liquor and cold beer in gas stations, Ricker and his lawyers found what they believed to be a loophole and added 25 seats and a food service counter to their gas stations and—poof!—they had a restaurant.

In this, Ricker believed he had a win-win. Not only could his new “restaurant” sell hard liquor and cold beer for carryout—a privilege never before offered to gas stations in Indiana—he could also obtain a permit for just less than one half of 1 percent of what many liquor stores must pay for the exact same privilege. Three-way permits for restaurants in Indiana cost just $1,000, while package-liquor-store permits cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. My company purchased a permit for more than $400,000.

Now, Ricker expects Hoosiers to stand by and watch as the state goes down the dangerous road where anyone with $1,000, 25 chairs and a counter can start dispensing hard liquor and cold beer on any street corner in Indiana. That is a dangerous and lethal precedent.

We shouldn’t go down that road. We deserve better.

We deserve strong alcohol laws because alcohol is serious. We’re not selling toothpaste. Alcohol is a potentially dangerous commodity that—when used irresponsibly—can have serious consequences for individuals, families and communities. Because of this, the supply chain—from the factory to the wholesaler, from the retail merchant to the individual—creates an entire industry conceived and regulated by the state of Indiana.

Like any reputable business in the communities in which we operate, we are committed to faithfully following the letter and spirit of the law as set forth by the state of Indiana. It’s what we owe to Hoosiers and reflects the seriousness of the products we sell daily.•

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Sinder owns Crown Liquors, which has 29 locations throughout central Indiana.

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