When Indiana legalized Sunday alcohol sales for the first time in its history on March 4, Hoosiers celebrated with barbecues outside liquor stores, selfies inside and by saving their historic receipts and posting them on social media.
But after the Champagne effervescence of becoming the last state in the union to finally scrap a 19th-century blue law subsided, sales went flat at many Northwest Indiana retailers.
After the novelty of buying a six-pack or a bottle of wine on the Sabbath wore off, things quieted down at some Indiana liquor stores on Sundays. Northwest Indiana liquor stores and supermarkets said it’s been just another day in terms of sales, and in fact slower than most.
“Sundays are extremely slow,” said Amber Loach, a clerk at Happy Jacks Liquors in Whiting. “People still need to get used to it.”
In fact, some liquor stores haven’t opened on Sundays after more than a month, or are only open for limited hours, less than the noon to 8 p.m. allowed by state law. Cask-N-Cellar hasn't opened all of its locations on Sundays. Nick’s Liquors, one of the largest chains in the Region with eight locations, has stayed closed on Sundays for now.
“I can’t say 100 percent what we’ll do in the future, but we’ve chosen to stay closed,” said Zach Kikalos, retail manager of Nick’s Discount Liquors on Indianapolis Boulevard in Hammond. “It’s a family business and we do believe it’s important to spend time with family. We’re open six days a week so employees can spend the seventh day with family, at church or to rest. We could be open 365 days a year, but choose to close on holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving so our employees can have time off.”
Kikalos believes opening on Sunday mainly would shift around sales, lessening business on Saturdays and Mondays.
“We’ve been in business for 47 years now, and we have regulars who come in monthly, weekly and daily,” he said. “They’ve stayed true to us. We show great customer appreciation. They stock up on Saturdays if they need something on Sundays. It’s stayed pretty consistent.”
Changing purchase habits
Grocery stores could see more business even though they can’t sell the cold beer customers want if they’re hoping to consume in short order, Kikalos said. They benefit more from legal Sunday sales because they only have to open another aisle, don’t have to add more employees, and face no significant increase in overhead.
Strack & Van Til, the Region’s largest independent grocery chain with 20 supermarkets, hasn’t seen much of an impact, Chief Executive Officer Jeff Strack said.
“There has been a minimal positive impact with Sunday alcohol sales,” he said. “The overall sales are up over a year ago.”
Wine and beer sales have been up by less than 5 percent at Strack & Van Til and Town & Country stores, Strack said.
"The Sunday sales have been where we expected them to be," he said. "Having limited Sunday hours and customers changing, switching their purchase habits around has played a part in this."
Customers still are used to buying booze six days a week, but are gradually warming up to Sunday sales, Loach said.
Happy Jacks Liquors on Indianapolis Boulevard by the BP Whiting Refinery started out being open only from 1 to 6 p.m. Sundays, but expanded to noon to 6 p.m. when customers started showing up at noon, and then from noon to 7 p.m. when customers started showing up at that time.
“Our customers are happy,” she said. “Our ones that do come in are very pleased they can travel five minutes here instead of 20 to 30 minutes to Illinois.”
She’s optimistic business might pick up during the busy summer season when many people flock to the beach and events like Pierogi Fest.
A few liquor stores say they're already busy on Sundays, including Paradise Liquors on 119th Street in Whiting and Kennan Liquors in Dyer.
Gordon McKee, a manager at King Richard’s Wine and Spirits on South Franklin Street in Michigan City, hopes that sales will increase when out-of-towners and vacationers arrive to the beachfront community during the summer month.
“It was obviously really busy at first because it was historic,” he said. “But sales have really tapered off. It’s an average day for sales.”
Saturday nights have gotten a little less busy because fewer people are rushing in to ensure they have enough alcohol for Sundays, McKee said.
“It’s less crazy because people know they don’t have to go to Michigan or Illinois on Sunday,” he said.
Hammond-based distributor Calumet Breweries hasn't seen any real bump in business yet, but will have a clearer view during the busier summer season, and when collegiate and professional football return in the fall, President Mark Kiernan said.
"I'm sure there is a positive impact of not losing business to Illinois, but we haven't seen it yet," he said. "It's too new to rate. It's evolutionary instead of revolutionary – it doesn't spike up because there's a longer incline to climb up. It's steady as she goes."
It’s too early to know the exact effect of Sunday sales, but distributor Indiana Beverage of Valparaiso has seen order volume decline so far this year as compared to 2017, General Manager George Douglas said.
“We’re down compared to last year, but the weather has been bad and we launched Yuengling last year, which had long been unavailable in this market and there was a lot of pent-up demand for (it),” he said. “We’d have to wait and see what the impact will be.”
Studies cited in the Indiana legislature predicted overall alcohol sales would increase by 6 percent, but the increases might be more pronounced in areas like Indianapolis than Northwest Indiana where people are accustomed to buying alcohol across state lines, Douglas said.
“Intuitively, there would be an increase,” he said. “But it might just spread out when people are buying over the course of the week. It’s really too soon to tell.”