Another stupid alcohol skirmish in the Indiana Legislature

(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

Quiz of the day: What do you call a gas station where you can order a burrito and eat it on the premises?

Answer: A gas station. Calling it a restaurant wouldn’t make it one.

Welcome to the latest round of Stupid Skirmishes Over Alcohol Sales.

It was ignited by Jay Ricker, head of the family-owned Ricker’s convenience store chain, which has 56 stores across the state. “Convenience store” is what we started calling gas stations after they replaced the auto-repair bays with milk and bread and racks of potato chips.

He could see a future when gas and cigarette sales wouldn’t be enough to sustain a business, and he came up with: Cold beer sales!

It was a declaration of war on the state, which has a longstanding policy of allowing cold beer carryout only at liquor stores because they are subject to regulations other retailers are not. Among other things, they can’t sell cold water or soda. They can’t be in unincorporated areas. Their clerks must get special training. Such rules are meant to curb underage drinking.

But Ricker found a loophole. Restaurants can serve cold beer, and patrons can even take cold packaged beer home if it is delivered to the table. So Ricker remodeled two of his stores, put in seating, and started serving made-to-order Tex-Mex food such as burritos, quesadillas and nachos.

With cold beer.

“They are just thumbing their noses in terms of the intent of Indiana’s laws,” said Patrick Tamm, president of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, which fights fiercely any attempt to weaken its monopoly status.

House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis), ever eager to prop up the beverage retail monopoly, said he doesn’t blame Ricker for using the loophole but thinks the Alcohol & Tobacco Commission ignored state policy in providing the loophole. Both he and Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R-Fort Wayne) say changes will come this year making state policy clearer than ever.

And so it goes, back and forth, on and on.

We have long argued that the state needs to look at the whole set of complex rules governing alcohol sales in Indiana. Amendments to the 80-year-old liquor act have created a confusing maze of regulations difficult to get through. Alcohol is not quite like other commodities, but it is a commodity, and the state needs to start looking at it from the consumers’ point of view.

That means cold beer at convenience stores and, oh, yes, Sunday sales, too.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association.