Big liquor chain sues Indiana for denying permit for Nora superstore

Photo courtesy of Total Wine & More

Just days after getting turned down for a liquor permit, a huge Maryland-based liquor retailer is suing the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, saying the denial was unconstitutional and amounted to economic protectionism.

Indiana Fine Wine & Spirits LLC, an affiliate of national retailer Total Wine & More, filed a complaint March 6 in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, saying the state’s ruling violated the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause.

The state liquor commission denied the company a permit on March 3 for a proposed superstore in the old Marsh supermarket at Nora Corners Shopping Center. Its rationale was that state law prohibits it from issuing a retail permit to any company unless at least 60% of the company’s common stock is owned by people who have been Indiana residents for five years.

Total Wine, the nation’s largest liquor retailer with 206 superstores in 24 states, is based in Bethesda, Maryland. It’s a private company, with no known Indiana connections.

In its complaint, the company cites a 7-2 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last year that struck down a similar residency requirement in Tennessee as unconstitutional.

“The intent and purpose of Indiana’s in-state residency requirements is to protect in-state owners of package stores from economic competition by out-of-state owners,” the complaint said.

Total Wine would be the first out-of-state company to open a liquor store in Indiana since the Supreme Court’s ruling.

The company said it has spent more than $100,000 in architectural fees and other costs in preparation for opening a store at 1460 E. 86th St.

It said it also spent hundreds of hours studying possible locations before deciding on that site, which has “outstanding road visibility, an ample parking field, easy ingress and egress, and a co-tenancy mix, including several national retailers, that will complement one another and provide the typical Total Wine customer an outstanding, one-stop shopping experience.”

The liquor commission declined IBJ’s request for comment on Tuesday morning.

John Krauss, the commission’s vice chairman, said last week that the state was in a “legal quagmire,” with the Supreme Court decision on one hand and the existing state law on the other.

“But until the General Assembly or a court acts to invalidate our existing statute, we have no choice but to  deny the permit,” he said.

Total Wine wants to remodel about 26,000 square feet of the former Marsh, according to plans it submitted to the state several weeks ago for a building permit.

The former Marsh space, which measures about 49,000 square feet, went vacant when the now-defunct grocery chain closed the store in April 2017. It filed for bankruptcy a month later.

Discount grocer Aldi opened a store in the space in 2018 but left more than 25,000 square feet empty.

Total Wine typically operates huge liquor superstores that are about five times the size of typical liquor stores currently operating in Indiana.

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8 thoughts on “Big liquor chain sues Indiana for denying permit for Nora superstore

    1. Amen! Too bad the one person with the power to do it easily, the Speaker of the House, is just like the old one.

  1. Spent part of the winter in Florida this year, just a few blocks from a Total Wine store. I will have to say they are an amazingly large store, but it was a waste of time going into the place. It would take me an hour to pick out 6 half way decent bottles of wine. I had to use a smart phone app to know what might be in the bottle, and even then half of what I bought was just plonk.

    The small specialty wine stores like you would find in Zionsville or Fishers will have no problem standing up to these guys because they actually curate their selection of wine, rather than just stocking the shelves with just anything that happens to be in a bottle and called wine.

    Don’t waste your time, your money, or your tastebuds on Total Wine.

    1. While living in Northern Virginia my wife and I shopped at Total Wine and found both the vast selection and lower prices unmatched anywhere else. And because the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that state residency requirements for liquor store ownership are unconstitutional, there is virtually no way Indiana will prevail in this lawsuit. Only wish I could place a wager with Fan Duel on the outcome!

    2. #DM your point is well taken and proves that there is a place of all sorts of stores in a particular area. The smaller stores you suggest can offer options the big boxes cannot however that is not a reason to bar them from coming to town. Each of us can make our own decision if our time, money, tastebuds and do not need some political hack from making it for us.

  2. I,too, haves shopped Total wines in Florida and found their selection outstanding. In seeking help for a selection I told the clerk what I had tasted and enjoyed in the past. They found the label I wanted and when asked they offered their advice on similar wines I might enjoy. I was pleased they offered suggestions both above and below my price point. I have not found those labels in Indiana.

  3. Sadly the state will spend no telling how much of the public’s money defending a law ruled unconstitutional. Shame on the general assembly this year faced with this situation they continued to pander to the local liquor store lobby instead of doing their job. Will be interesting to see the $$’s the liquor lobby spent this year when the reports come out.

    #DM your point is well taken and proves that there is a place of all sorts of stores in a particular area. The smaller stores you suggest can offer options the big boxes cannot however that is not a reason to bar them from coming to town. Each of us can make our own decision if our time, money, tastebuds and do not need some political hack from making it for us.

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