Convenience stores sue for right to sell cold beer

2013-05-14T11:15:00Z 2013-05-14T15:17:47Z Convenience stores sue for right to sell cold beerBy Dan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com

INDIANAPOLIS | A coalition of Hoosier convenience stores asked a federal judge Tuesday to declare unconstitutional an Indiana law that gives package liquor stores a monopoly over cold beer sales.

The Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association claims in its lawsuit the state improperly privileges package liquor stores over other beer permit holders in violation of the equal protection guarantees of the U.S. and Indiana constitutions.

"Responsible retailers and consumers have lived long enough under an antiquated law that governs the temperature at which beer can be sold among different classes of retailers," said Scot Imus, executive director of the convenience store group.

Indiana is the only state that allows liquor stores to sell cold beer while prohibiting convenience, grocery and drug stores from doing the same.

David Bridgers, vice president of Thornton's, which counts a Highland location among its 26 Indiana gas stations and convenience stores, said the prohibition on cold beer sales has led his company to avoid opening any new locations in the state for nearly a decade.

"Not having the ability to sell what our customers want impacts our bottom line, and we will continue to invest in other states where the laws are more business-friendly to our company and where it makes the most economic sense," Bridgers said.

Proposals to eliminate liquor store control of the cold beer market have failed repeatedly in the General Assembly. Lawmakers this year rejected a measure that would have allowed just Indiana-brewed beer to be sold cold in convenience and grocery stores.

As a result, Imus said, Hoosiers will continue to be forced to pay a liquor store premium when purchasing cold beer. Meanwhile, Indiana loses sales tax revenue every time its residents travel to neighboring states to buy lower-priced cold beer at convenience stores, he said.

"You don't have choice, you don't have competition," Imus said.

John Livengood, president of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, whose membership includes package liquor stores, said courts have given states wide latitude to enact the alcohol laws each state believes best for its citizens. He called the convenience stores' lawsuit a desperate attempt to get around the will of Hoosiers.

"It's an attack on the state's public policy as determined by the General Assembly," Livengood said. "The Legislature has looked at this recently and said 'no.'"

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who will defend the law, said he believes the General Assembly is the proper forum for changing state laws, not the courts.

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