New Indiana alcohol law raises businesses’ spirits

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DrinkingIndiana’s bars, restaurants, liquor stores and microbreweries hope to boost their business, thanks to a series of new alcohol provisions recently signed into law by Gov. Mitch Daniels.

The new statute, which becomes effective July 1, would extend Sunday drinking hours to 3 a.m., repeal the prohibition of Election Day alcohol sales and allow Sunday carryout sales at microbreweries.

Senate Enrolled Act 75 also aims to curtail underage access to alcohol by requiring any establishments that have carryout sales to card all customers who appear younger than 50.

Overall, owners of bars, restaurants and microbreweries say, the law — which passed the legislature overwhelmingly — should bring a slight uptick in business because they will have more hours, on Election Day and Sunday, to sell their products.

Plus, it’s an issue of convenience.

Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, and other lawmakers pushed for an expansion of the Sunday drinking hours because Hoosiers and out-of-town visitors were unable to buy drinks in the city’s establishments after Sunday night Colts football games.

“With events like the Final Four coming up and other events on the weekend, bars and businesses will benefit from these provisions,” said John Livengood, CEO of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers.

While most Sunday nights aren’t a particularly busy time and bars can close earlier than the law permits, Livengood said he thinks the added flexibility will be valued most when Indianapolis hosts major events.

Chris Burton, managing partner of Kilroy’s Bar and Grill, said extending Sunday hours was inevitable for local businesses hoping to cash in big when visitors come to town.

“With events like . . . the Super Bowl being here in a few years,” Burton said, “having that law would have made us look sort of small-town.”

For Indiana’s 32 microbreweries, the new law will help them market themselves as tourist destinations.

The Brewers Guild of Indiana aggressively lobbied lawmakers this year, arguing they should be allowed to sell their products on Sundays just as the state’s wineries have been allowed to do. Without sales on Sunday, they argued, it was difficult to market the breweries as destinations to out-of-state travelers because they could sell for only half the weekend.

Brendon Hope, assistant manager of Downtown’s Alcatraz Brewing Co., said the Sunday-sales provision will help his business more than the extra Sunday hours.

“People staying in hotels from out of state will be able to come in Sundays and pick up whatever they need,” Hope said.

Tim Fogleman, managing partner at Rock Bottom Brewery, also Downtown, said he makes approximately $100 a week in carryout sales, but it’s difficult to estimate how much Sunday sales would increase that business. At a minimum, he said, the changes will eliminate a lot of confusion.

“In terms of the Downtown market, this will be great, especially for out-of-towners who may not know Indiana’s laws,” Fogleman said. “It’s good that we are finally at a level playing field with wineries, and it will be great for football season.”

And no longer will customers have to wait for the polls to close to order a draft or stop by a liquor store.

Lawmakers pushed for that change as elections have become more frequent, with referendums appearing on the ballot more often, plus the fact that the state has instituted voting centers that have extended voting hours.

Ben Jenkins, a director with the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, said a repeal of that Prohibition-era ban was long overdue. Only West Virginia and Kentucky remain as states that prohibit liquor stores, bars and restaurants from serving while the polls are open.

“A hundred and fifty years ago, the tavern was probably the only neighborhood area to have as a polling place because there weren’t really any other public buildings,” Livengood said. “Now that we don’t use them for polling places, we were one of only a handful of states that still had that law on the books.”

Shortly before 6 p.m. on Nov. 3 — when a referendum on funding a new Wishard Memorial Hospital complex was on the ballot in Marion County — the parking lot was full and there was a line around 21st Amendment Liquors at 71st Street and Keystone Avenue, with customers waiting for the polls to close and the store to open.

“If anything, it will take some time to get people to switch over and realize we’re open,” said Jim Arnold, owner of Kahn’s Fine Wines and Spirits, who said he’s seen many people drive up to his store on Election Day, only to realize it was closed.

Arnold, however, said the new provision that will require his clerks — and others at carryout locations — to card customers who look younger than 50 will slow down service. But, he said, he understands the law’s intent: to prevent minors from getting their hands on alcohol.

“Do I think it’s flawed? Yes. I have customers that come in every day for a small bottle of alcohol,” Arnold said. “According to the law, I’ll have to card them every day.”

However, Alting, the bill’s author, argued that having the mandatory carding at liquor, grocery and convenience stores “isn’t offensive to the customer or the business operation like holding up a (restaurant’s operations) would be,” because restaurants tend to have busier rush hours.

Rhonda Miliner sees it as an inconvenience.

“I don’t get the part about checking IDs,” said Miliner, 47, who lives Downtown. “I get carded enough as it is.”

Source: IndyStar

By: Julie Crothers

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