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Bottoms up
Here are some U.S. alcohol industry statistics:
• Impact – Contributes more than $120 billion to the economy
• Employment – More than 3.9 million jobs
• Pay – $90 billion in yearly wages
• State and local revenue – More than $21 billion annually
• Distilled spirits are one of the highest-taxed consumer products in the country
Source: Distilled Spirits Council of the United States
Photos by Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Cedar Creek Carry Out owner Steve Kohrman is the new chairman of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers.

For liquor stores, Sunday sales would worsen uneven playing field

Package liquor stores such as Kohrman’s must restrict who enters, and their clerks must hold state liquor licenses.

A northeast Indiana liquor salesman isn't ready for a last call.

As newly elected chairman of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, Steve Kohrman believes he's stepping into the role at a time when many in his industry could be on the brink.

A legislative push for Sunday retail alcohol sales is viewed as a death knell by many small liquor outlet owners – such as Kohrman.

"That's just how it is," he said.

Kohrman's attitude may seem uncharacteristic for someone who owns a pair of liquor stores in Grabill and Leo-Cedarville. But what is lost on most people, Kohrman said, are the competitive disadvantages within his industry.

Legislation introduced last year seeks to broaden a state law that now limits Sunday alcohol sales to restaurants, bars, breweries and wineries, and supporters of the bill hope it will get a hearing during the current session.

Large retailers are among the main proponents to remove Indiana's label as the only state to ban all alcohol sales on Sundays.

But it's not a level playing field, Kohrman said. Unlike package liquor stores, grocery and convenience stores don't have age restrictions on who can enter, and their clerks are not required to hold state liquor licenses.

The law against selling alcohol on Sundays dates back to the Prohibition era. Supporters of Sunday sales say times have long since changed, particularly with Sunday ranked by various retail studies as the second-busiest shopping day of the week.

Total sales for 2013 are being tallied, but according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, Indiana recorded $1.9 billion in alcohol sales in 2012, up from $1.8 billion the previous year.

With that kind of money at stake, it's little wonder that other retailers want to cash in, Kohrman said.

"Even if the big boxes don't sell a lot of (alcohol), they can make it up on groceries," he said, "but I'm not selling bread and milk."

Advocates say retail is about giving consumers what they want. And many consumers like one-stop shopping.

"We're always looking to best serve our customers," said Wal-Mart spokesman Brad Rateike, "and adult beverage sales on Sunday is an area they have requested."

Kroger spokesman John Elliott has said the retailer constantly gets customers who are disappointed that they can't purchase alcohol on Sunday. This is especially so for households that have time to shop only on Sunday, he said.

The Indiana Retail Council said the state could gain $10 million annually in tax revenue if Sunday sales were permitted. Council President Grant Monahan said the figure is far greater than that when purchases related to alcohol sales are taken into account.

Supporters of ending Indiana's ban on Sunday retail alcohol sales hope a change in the General Assembly will improve their chances.

That change is the appointment of Republican Rep. Tom Dermody of LaPorte as chairman of the House Public Policy Committee after the resignation of Chairman Rep. Bill Davis of Portland. That committee held a hearing on lifting the Sunday ban, but Davis refused to bring it up for a vote.

Monahan said he believes Dermody's appointment is a positive development for Sunday sales supporters.

But the lawmaker has said he hasn't made any decisions about the issue.

Cap n' Cork co-owner Andy Lebamoff wants officials to consider more than monetary gain.

"Why are we asking Hoosiers to drink more?" he said. "If this is the kind of message that lawmakers want to send, then shame on them."

Rich Lutz agrees.

The 67-year-old recently shopped at West State Plaza in Fort Wayne, where Belmont Beverage and a Kroger store share space.

"I don't know," the retiree said. "I just think that six days is enough. Sunday should be a day of rest. Besides, people will just buy enough alcohol on Saturday to get through Sunday."

Maybe so, but homemaker Dee Brincefield says allowing Sunday sales makes sense.

"Why not," she said. "You might as well sell on Sunday because people are drinking on that day anyway. You can't stop it."

Kohrman said he understands, but he wants lawmakers to draw the line somewhere.

"It's just a bad idea," Kohrman said.

pwyche@jg.net

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