Indiana Scrutinizes Alcohol Sales at Convenience Stores

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Indiana Scrutinizes Alcohol Sales at Convenience Stores

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana should close a legal loophole that allows a range of retailers -- from gas stations and convenience stores to home furnishing stores -- to sell beer and wine, two legislators said.

State Sen. Thomas Wyss and state Rep. Robert Alderman, both Republicans from Fort Wayne, said they intend to introduce bills that would clearly define what a "grocery store" is in state alcoholic beverage laws, according to the Indianapolis Star.

Critics say a lack of a definition allows too many types of retailers to claim they are grocery stores to qualify for a permit, making alcohol too readily available in neighborhoods, and potentially, to underage drinkers. "It's time that we decided what a grocery store is," Alderman said. "When was the last time you said, 'Hey, let's go grocery shopping at the Big Foot convenience store?'"

Actually, many people are doing just that, said Grant Monahan, president of the Indiana Retail Council, which will oppose efforts to restrict permits. "Convenience stores are the 2002-equivalent of a neighborhood grocery," he said.

Monahan said the only thing wrong with it is that apparently, it cuts in on somebody else's business. "This is simply an effort by the package liquor industry to eliminate the competition," Monahan said. "They are seeking a governmental solution to a free-market problem."

The Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, which represents package stores, said it would push for a definition of grocery store that would not include convenience stores.

Indianapolis councilman Bill Soards said he would introduce a sympathetic though powerless resolution next month, urging the state to define grocery store. Soards' resolution acknowledges that state and county alcoholic beverage boards control the permits.

"Every one of our 92 counties has a local alcoholic beverage commission. That's the problem," said Soards, a Republican. "There are 92 different interpretations of what a grocery store is."

Statewide, about 1,329 beer/wine permits are held by undefined grocery stores, but under the new census, that could grow to 4,100 permits, said Lou Wildeman, board president of the beverage retailers group. The state regulates permits based on an area's population, the report said.

Among the group's complaints is that package store clerks must be at least 21 years old and licensed, yet underage clerks at convenience stores can sell beer and wine.

"These are the least regulated outlets," Patrick Tamm, the association's governmental affairs director claims. "If the legislature doesn't tighten the reins it will open Indiana up to be the Wild West of alcohol sales."