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Vierk's Liquor Store on Ridge Road in Lansing, less than a half-mile from the state line, can get so packed on Sundays that people often have to wait for a parking space to open up and again in line to make their purchase.

Look around the parking lot, and it's mostly Indiana plates.

Indiana has banned Sunday alcohol retail sales since the Prohibition era, driving many Region residents just across the state line to border communities like Lansing, Lynwood, Calumet City and Chicago's Hegewisch and East Side neighborhoods if they need a bottle of wine for a dinner party or some beer for the game on Sunday.

"It's always super busy on Sundays," Vierk's Liquor Store cashier Shannon Sinde said. "There's lines out the door."

Sinde said people come from as far away as Cedar Lake to buy beer on Sundays, and that many Hoosiers hit up Vierk's Torrence Avenue location in Lansing since it's closer to the interstate.

"They really stock up while they're here," she said. 

But Indiana is poised to finally legalize Sunday retail alcohol sales. The Indiana House voted 87-10 on House Bill 1051, while Indiana senators endorsed the identical Senate Bill 1 by a 39 to 10 vote in January. Now either the Senate must approve the House measure, or the House must ratify the Senate proposal, to send the legislation to Gov. Eric Holcomb, who is expected to sign it into law.

Retailers then would be able to sell booze between noon and 8 p.m. on Sundays starting July 1 — which happens to be a Sunday this year.

"We've gotten a zillion phone calls asking if we're open Sundays since the senate took a vote," said Zach Kikalos, retail manager of Nick's Discount Liquors on Indianapolis Boulevard in Hammond. "No one reads past the headlines."

Hiring expected

A half dozen Northwest Indiana liquor store owners said customers were excited about the change, that they expected to bring back some consumer spending from Illinois, and that they all plan to hire at least a few more employees so they'll be able to staff Sundays. They foresee some modest increase in sales, at least initially, but said the new law likely won't boost business so much as spread it around to different days by changing customers' shopping habits.

"It'll drop on Saturdays since people know they can buy it on Sundays, and really fall off on Mondays," Kikalos said.

Northwest Indiana liquor store owners also believe they may continue to lose business to border liquor stores in Illinois on Sundays, since they can't open until noon that day, which is when NFL games kick off. Kikalos said Sunday sales likely would be stronger if people could make a beer run before the game, and hopes the state legislature would consider moving the time up in the future.

"People might still come at halftime," he said. "I don't know if they thought about the times beforehand. Some people are probably going to be disappointed."

Nick's Liquors, which has eight locations in Hammond, Dyer, Hobart and Merrillville, still should pick up some additional business when it can open on Sundays, Kikalos said.

"The stores in Illinois get a majority of their business from Indiana residents on Sundays," he said. "They're going to lose a hell of a lot of business."

Nick's will need to add another three or four employees so it can staff for the day, since its managers already work six days a week.

"It's going to be tough to find good employees since the economy is picking up," Kikalos said. "The big thing is that business will grow a little bit, but the gross total amount for the business won't be huge. Most of the numbers will be shifted around."

Supermarkets may benefit

Paul Lukso, owner of Munster Liquors on Ridge Road, said he expected that more Region residents would buy their beer in Indiana for convenience sake on Sundays.

"It's all Indiana customers at those liquor stores at the border," he said. "They're not going to have to go that far."

Customers have been looking forward to being able to buy alcohol on Sundays, but liquor stores will face higher overhead because they'll have to hire more employees and schedule existing employees for more owners, said Joe Saltanovitz, manager of Delock's Discount Liquors.

"I'm not looking forward to missing games when it's football season," he said. "Now I'll have to work."

Liquor stores also may lose a chunk of their business to supermarkets, since most consumers go grocery shopping on the weekends and soon will be able to pick up a case of beer along with their week's groceries. Griffith resident Tina Janke said she planned to buy more beer at Strack & Van Til while she was out grocery shopping, instead of making a special trip for it.

"We know to plan ahead, but occasionally have had to make the jaunt to Illinois," she said. "It'll be more convenient to shop when we want. Liquor stores have higher prices, and don't always carry a large wine selection or specialty kinds of beers. I'd like to be able to make that purchase on the day that I choose. I would rather purchase when I'm already out grocery shopping."

Her husband Patrick Janke thinks the lifted ban will be more exciting for consumers in the Indianapolis area than in Northwest Indiana, where it's easy to pop across the border to Illinois or Michigan.

"Realistically, that law has been in place for so long people probably won't change their habits, at least not right off," he said.

Price

Sinde at Vierk's Liquor Store in Lansing doesn't think there will be much of a dropoff in business from the Indiana side of the border since Illinois has the third cheapest beer prices in the country, after only Michigan and California, according to a recent report. A study by Simple Thrifty Living found the average price of a case of beer was about $1 cheaper in the Land of Lincoln than the Hoosier state last year, and varied widely across the country because of distribution laws, regulation, competition, market size, production costs and other factors.

Northwest Indiana resident Sean Flahavin said he finds beer prices significantly cheaper when he goes to Illinois for work or to visit family or friends.

"A trip to Binny's usually gets me a 30-pack of PBR, Busch or Miller High Life for $11.99 or $12.99, sometimes even $10.99," he said. "A 24-pack of Bud Light/Budweiser or Miller Lite/Coors Light would be $13.99 to $14.99. A normal trip to the liquor store here in NWI normally runs $20 for a 24-pack of beer. Once in a while the grocery stores have the 24-packs for about $15 around a holiday. Outside of Binny's, the normal grocery store trip in Illinois or even to another liquor store, the beer prices are still significantly cheaper."

Sinde said she still expects Hoosiers will come to Lansing and stock up since they can save money on beer, unless they just want to grab a six-pack for the game.

"They might go somewhere closer to home in Indiana if it's a smaller item," she said. "But people come here from Indiana to stock up."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.