Groups take sides in debate over Sunday alcohol sales

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Supporters and foes of repealing Indiana’s ban on Sunday take-out alcohol sales made their cases before a group of lawmakers yesterday in a preview of what could be a divisive debate in the next legislative session.

"It’s an issue that has been raised outside the Legislature," said Democratic Rep. Trent Van Haaften of Mount Vernon, a co-chairman of the Interim Study Committee on Alcoholic Beverage Issues. "There are organized efforts for both sides."

A coalition of grocery stores, convenience stores and drug stores contends that Sunday alcohol sales should be allowed, in part because Sunday is the second busiest shopping day of the week and people should be able to buy numerous items in one place. The groups also support allowing cold beer to be sold in their stores, something only liquor stores can do now.

"It’s giving our customers their choice in what they buy and when they buy it," said John Elliott, a spokesman for a division of Kroger Food Stores.

Allowing Sunday sales is opposed by many package liquor store owners, in part because they believe any business gained would be canceled out by additional costs for being open another day. They say big-box grocery stores and drug stores could easily absorb any extra costs, and Sunday sales would change alcohol buying habits in their favor.

"Sunday sales would devastate package stores," said John Livengood, president of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, which represents many of the state’s liquor stores. "There is no public outcry for change."

Indiana is one of 14 states that prohibits carryout sales of alcoholic beverages on Sunday. At least 13 others have repealed such restrictions since 2002. But restaurants, taverns, and numerous sports and community events are allowed to sell alcohol by the drink on Sundays in Indiana.

Backers of take-out Sunday sales said many people would purchase alcohol and take it home to consume, instead of drinking at a restaurant or bar and then driving. They also argue that many people near the borders with Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and parts of Kentucky drive across state lines on Sundays to purchase alcohol.

Grant Monahan, president of the Indiana Retail Council, said his group estimates that Indiana loses about $9 million in sales taxes and alcohol excise taxes each year because of that.

"They don’t just go to buy alcohol, they’re taking their shopping list with them," he said.

A coalition called Hoosiers for Beverage Choices said it has collected 35,000 signatures from people in favor of cold beer sales in places other than liquor stores, and allowing Sunday take-out sales. Opponents said they were limited in what they could sell, and noted that their clerks must be at least 21 and be certified by the state to sell alcohol, restrictions that aren’t placed on other stores.

"We don’t have 19-year-olds selling to 19-year-olds," said Randy Zion, who operates seven liquor stores in the Indianapolis area. It is possible the interim committee will make recommendations on Sunday sales and other alcohol issues before the next legislative session in January.

|Regardless, Sen. Phil Boots (R-Crawfordsville) said he would file a bill that would allow both Sunday take-out sales and cold beer sales in businesses other than liquor stores.

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