- Scot Imus, executive director of the Indiana Petroleum and Marketers and Convenience Store Association, said state law unfairly treats liquor stores differently from convenience and grocery stores when it comes to selling cold beer.
The Indiana Petroleum and Marketers and Convenience Store Association has sued the state to overturn a 1979 law that restricts cold beer sales only to liquor stores.
The group's executive director, Scot Imus, said the lawsuit is "about fairness, convenience and promoting competition." And the leaders of several convenience store companies say they'll be more likely to expand in Indiana if the court overturns the law.
But John Livengood, president of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, which represents liquors stores, called the lawsuit "an uphill fight." That's because the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives states broad powers to regulate alcohol.
"The legislature felt comfortable giving (cold beer) to liquor stores because they created liquor stores to be the principal outlet for alcohol," Livengood said. "The age-restricted environment - one where minors are not even allowed in - gave the legislature confidence that it was the place for cold beer."
Indiana is the only state that regulates beer sales based on temperature, although the law allows grocery and convenience stores to sell cold wine.
"The resulting lack of competition hurts consumers who must pay higher prices," said the lawsuit, which alleges the law violates the state and U.S. Constitution. Three of the convenience store association's members - Ricker's, Thorntons and Freedom Express - are plaintiffs in the suit. Gregg Cobb, owner of Freedom Express in Warsaw, said his six stores located in rural communities in northern Indiana sell cold wine and it's "common sense" to be able to sell cold beer as well.
And David Bridgers, vice president and general counsel of Thornton's, said his company - which has 26 stores and 284 employees in Indiana - would invest more in the state if the law changed or was overturned.
"Indiana prides itself on being business friendly and I believe generally it is business friendly," Bridgers said. "However, Indiana's outdate alcohol law has been a determining factor in why our business has chosen to expand operations in states other than Indiana."
The lawsuit alleges that state law violates the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause and the Indiana Constitution's equal privileges clause because it doesn't treat all businesses that sell alcohol similarly. It also says that the law interferes with an individual's constitutional right to "select what they eat and drink" by regulating alcohols sales based on temperature.
Convenience stores have taken similar arguments to the General Assembly but have never convinced legislators to change the law. In fact, Livengood said, a study committee recently voted unanimously to endorse the state's current cold beer law. "The public doesn't think convenience stores should be selling alcohol at all," Livengood said. "I agree with the public. It's not appropriate."
Lesley Weidenbener is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.