By Andi TenBarge
INDIANAPOLIS — Some Hoosiers may be happy to see a convenience store selling cold beer, but lawmakers are scrambling to fix that just days before the committee deadline.
Under Indiana state law, convenience stores can sell warm beer but selling the beverage cold has long been left to the liquor stores.
Scott Imus with the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association testified in opposition to House and Senate amendments that would prohibit Ricker’s to sell cold beer. Imus argued Ricker’s changed their business model to sell cold beer to keep up with the evolving market. Photo by Andi TenBarge, TheStatehouseFile.com
Ricker’s, however, recently started selling cold beer at two locations after obtaining a license from the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission that deemed their operation as a restaurant. Ricker’s added seating and started making Tex-Mex food in those stores to get the permit.
“It’s made to order,” Scott Imus, the executive director of the Indiana Petroleum Markets and Convenience Store Association, argued before a Senate committee Wednesday. “It’s not roller dogs that you see in gas stations of the past. This is made to order food service and I’m sure Jay Ricker would buy you a burrito if you wanted to buy it.”
Ricker’s supporters argued the addition of the made-to-order food and the cold beer sales are simply keeping up with the evolving business market. Matt Bell with Big Red Liquors, however, said Ricker’s met only minimum requirements to get around the current law.
“They said, ‘Hey, we can be a restaurant and sell cold beer on that premise,’” Bell said. “‘Folks can have a shot of Jack Daniels while they fill up their tank and they can pick up a cold six pack to go.’”
Both a Senate and a House committee considered identical language Wednesday that would prevent convenience stores from selling cold beer.
If enacted, the proposed changes would prevent Ricker’s from selling the beverage cold in its convenience stores. Jay Ricker, the head of the Indiana-based chain, said he worked to change their business model so his stores could offer cold beer to their customers.
“I have permits already and have made tens-of-thousands of dollars of investment in equipment, training, a lot of different things,” Ricker said to the House Public Policy Committee Wednesday. “You want to take those licenses away from me.”
Opponents to the amendment argue the change would come with unintended consequences because it requires 90 percent of gross retail income to come from food and beverage sales. They argue those affected would be places like golf courses, movie theaters and bowling alleys.
“This is a major public policy change what you have before you,” Imus told the House committee. “Is this what you want to do in the last weeks of the session?”
House lawmakers said they would like to take a closer look at the amendment’s language before moving forward, but Senate lawmakers passed House Bill 1496 with the proposed changes that would impact Ricker’s 8-1.
Andi TenBarge is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news site powered by Franklin College journalism students.