Guess Who's Fighting To Keep Indiana Dry On Sundays?
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Some Indiana residents think their state is late to the party, because they still have laws on liquor sales that are some of the most restrictive in the country. Indiana's the only one where, on Sundays, you can't buy anything in stores, packaged liquor, wine or beer. It's also the only state that regulates beer sales based on whether the beer is cold. There's a legal battle underway, and you might be surprised who's fighting to keep Indiana dry on Sundays.
Here's Sara Wittmeyer from member station WFIU.
SARA WITTMEYER, BYLINE: When you think summer, you might think of cold beer at a barbeque, maybe a bottle of wine with a Sunday picnic. A lot of people take it for granted that they can just go to the store and pick up alcohol.
It's 86 degrees here in Central Indiana. The sun is blazing, and Mark Wozniak is sitting on his back deck, looking at his perfectly manicured lawn.
MARK WOZNIAK: You have a beer right at - in the summer, after you cut the grass. That's why God invented beer.
WOZNIAK: It never tasted any better.
WITTMEYER: He tips back his can of Old Style and laughs.
WOZNIAK: If I was cutting the grass and only had warm beer, I'd have a water. I'd have a water with ice. I wouldn't drink warm beer.
WITTMEYER: And that means Wozniak has to plan ahead. In this state, he can't just run to the grocery store to pick up a cold six-pack. Only liquor stores can sell cold beer, and on Sunday, practically all carry-out alcohol sales are prohibited. For Hoosier residents, it's all about convenience. And for those convenience stores, it's about leveling the playing field with liquor stores.
DAVE BRIDGERS: Not having the ability to sell what our customers want impacts our bottom-line.
WITTMEYER: Dave Bridgers is the vice president of Thornton's. The convenience store was founded in New Albany, Indiana, but it hasn't opened a new store in the state since 2006.
BRIDGERS: We will continue to invest in other states where laws are more business-friendly to our company, and where it makes the most economic sense.
WITTMEYER: Bridgers calls Indiana's alcohol laws antiquated, and says they're the reason his company's now expanding in bordering Kentucky and Ohio instead. For the past five years, Thornton's and other retailers here have urged Indiana's General Assembly to change the state's alcohol laws. After legislation failed to gain traction again this year, they filed a federal lawsuit seeking to sell cold beer.
Scott Imus heads the group's trade association.
SCOTT IMUS: You don't have choice. You don't have competition. We've done extensive price surveys at liquor stores, and find they add either a dollar to $2 on a case of beer, on warm or cold. I mean, Subway doesn't charge me more when I ask them to heat my sandwich.
WITTMEYER: But liquor stores - which would seem to have the most to gain from Sunday sales - are actually the ones fighting to keep Indiana's blue laws intact. John Livengood heads the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers. He's been lobbying on behalf of the liquor industry for more than two decades.
JOHN LIVENGOOD: This looks to me kind of like a Hail Mary pass, trying to get done in the courts what they couldn't get done at the legislature.
WITTMEYER: He argues that allowing Sunday sales would put about a quarter of the state's liquor stores out of business. That's because Sunday is one of the busiest shopping days, and many consumers would just pick up their alcohol at the grocery instead of making another stop at the liquor store. But what they're really resisting is an expansion of cold beer sales, which they argue would devastate the state's liquor industry, shutting down about half the stores. So this battle is less about drinking than it is about commerce.
LIVENGOOD: They want to come in here and change Indiana's laws so they're the same as they have in a few other states. And why? Because they want to make money.
WITTMEYER: So here's the deal: Liquor stores and convenience stores are each calling the other the threat. It's the consumers who are stuck in the middle, and it's common for Hoosiers to drive across the border to skirt Indiana's alcohol laws.
From New Albany, Indiana, it's a 10-minute round trip to the closest liquor store in Louisville, Kentucky. On Sundays, that's where nearby Hoosiers go to buy their alcohol. It's not unusual for every car in the lot to have Indiana plates, and that will likely continue unless the laws change in neighboring Indiana.
For NPR News, I'm Sara Wittmeyer, in Bloomington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.