Small business owners say alcohol law reforms needed

By Abrahm Hurt
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS — Many small business owners who sell alcohol say they struggle to interpret and operate under Indiana’s current alcohol laws.

Doug Pendleton, who owns the Grapevine Cottage in Fishers and Zionsville, operates a gourmet food and wine shop. He said that he faces opposition from package liquor store owners who believe he is exploiting a loophole in the law.

Pendleton was among several business owners who testified Tuesday before the Alcohol Code Revision Commission, which has been tasked with updating the state’s alcohol laws.

Doug Pendleton, who owns the Grapevine Cottage, gives testimony for the Alcohol Code Revision Commission. He said he would like to see a separate license made for the type of business he runs. Photo by Abrahm Hurt, TheStatehouseFile.com

“What we would like is to see the creation of a separate license for stores like ours,” Pendleton said. “That seems to be the only thing that would ever solve this problem, otherwise we’re just going to go on getting remonstrated against every time we try to get a license.”

Michelle Herr, the owner and manager of the Banner Flower House, said she would like to be able to sell custom gift baskets with beers and wines.

“Though we’ve been told repeatedly by our local alcohol board that it is illegal to ship alcohol to Indiana, direct to consumer wine sales to Indiana increased more than 17 percent in 2016,” she testified. “Current laws seem difficult to interpret even for those who enforce them.”

She was told by the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission that her business would have to apply as a restaurant and have seating for 25 people to sell gift baskets with alcohol. They were about to start the application process when they heard about the commission and opted to wait.

“We would much prefer a specific permit that would better suit our purpose rather than to attempt to qualify as something we’re not,” she said.

Michelle Herr, owner and manager of the Banner Flower House, gives testimony for the Alcohol Code Revision Commission. She would like to sell custom gift baskets with alcohol, but she was told she needed to apply as a restaurant and have seating for 25 people in her store to be able to do that. Photo by Abrahm Hurt, TheStatehouseFile.com

The commission’s creation came after a dispute earlier this year as to who can sell cold beer. Ricker’s convenience stores came under fire after obtaining a restaurant license for two of their locations by selling made-to-order Tex-Mex style food. By installing a food service and seating area inside their stores, Ricker’s was able to qualify as a restaurant, therefore making the sale of cold beer technically legal.

The General Assembly voted to close that loophole in the 2017 legislative session. Ricker’s will no longer be allowed to sell cold beer after April 2018 when the current permit expires.

“My main request is that they look at the cold beer or warm beer issue,” Jay Ricker told the commission. “Does it need to be regulated on temperature? It is the only state in the nation that regulates licenses based on cold beer and warm beer.”

Ricker’s situation led lawmakers to question how the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission grants a license and many agreed that changes need to be made to the state’s alcohol laws. 

Today was the first of five meetings for the commission. The other hearings will be on Sept. 11 and 22, Oct. 10 and 24, and Nov. 14. Former state Sen. Beverly Gard, who chairs the committee, said the next meeting will likely deal with the cold beer and warm beer sales and possibly Sunday sales.

Abrahm Hurt is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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One Response to Small business owners say alcohol law reforms needed

  1. My wholehearted support is with Michelle Herr and other retailers who simply wish to serve their customers by supplying the spirited beverage products they request.

    Antiquated laws do not help retailers to stay in business, employ staff, or pay taxes. My hope is that action will be taken to assist these business owners rather than a lot of talk resulting in nothing.