INDIANAPOLIS — Legislation targeting the sale of cold carryout beer at convenience stores was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Eric Holcomb.
The legislation became controversial after Republican legislators took aim at two stores in the Ricker’s convenience chain that legally obtained licenses to sell cold beer for carryout, which is limited by Indiana law to package liquor stores.
The debate also led to calls for a study of Indiana’s alcohol laws.
“I sign this bill with the understanding we need to review and make common-sense changes to Indiana’s alcohol laws,” Holcomb said in a statement.
Under provisions of the bill, a convenience store-turned-restaurant may not sell carryout unless at least 60 percent of its sales of alcohol are consumed on premises. The restrictions apply to any store that received its permit from Nov. 1, 2016, and May 14 of this year, a period that includes the issuance of both Ricker’s permits.
By refitting stores in Columbus and Sheridan as restaurants, Ricker’s was able to sell cold beer. The restaurant license received approval by local alcohol boards and the state commission.
Shortly before the session ended two weeks ago, House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) called Ricker’s action “deceitful” though legal.
“We’re trying to do as little harm to them as possible but also make it so not every convenience store in the state becomes a licensed package liquor store, a carryout location. It’s a fine balance,” Bosma said.
The debate has held up renewals of other alcohol permits around the state. In early April the commission postponed renewals of restaurant permits for 90 days while awaiting legislative action. For example, on Tuesday owners of a wine and canvas store in Merrillville had their hearing for a new restaurant license moved to a June.
There’s 47 pending permits awaiting action, commission officials said.
Among the pending application is one to sell beer, wine and liquor at Joan & Yogi’s 1 Stop, south of Terre Haute. The mom-and-pop store has one outdoor gas pump, an indoor restaurant and offers cold beer for carryout. The store has been selling cold beer since 2012, said Joan Pohlman who owns the family store with her husband Ted "Yogi" Pohlman.
They were often cited in the General Assembly as an example of some licenses issued to stores primarily seen as convenience stores. But Joan & Yogi's is a restaurant, which holds fundraisers for charitable groups. It hasn't scheduled any events while awaiting action by the governor.
“Beside it causing a lot of stress, we've been waiting day by day,” Joan Pohlman said Tuesday. "We have been on pins and needles because this is a family business."
House Bill 1496 states that it is the intent of the General Assembly that a restaurant inside a grocery store, convenience store or gourmet shop not be allowed to sell carryout alcohol.
However, Ricker’s can keep its licenses through next April when it otherwise would face a hearing for renewal. It can also keep the two licenses after that if it makes 60 percent of its profits from people drinking on the premises, a requirement that Jay Ricker, president of the Anderson-based chain, said would be difficult to prove.