Ricker's finds way around Indiana law banning cold beer sales at gas stations

INDIANAPOLIS -- Only liquor stores and restaurants in Indiana are allowed to sell cold beer, but two Ricker's gas stations have found a legal loophole.

The gas stations got alcohol permits after they opened restaurants at their property in Sheridan and Columbus.

“Our industry, if it’s going to survive long term… needs to ramp up the food offering,” said owner Jay Rickers. “We’ve remodeled 17 of our stores where we have the space to accommodate a restaurant.”

Because of those remodels, Rickers said they were able to apply for liquor licenses at two of their locations. After a few tweaks to those restaurants, the licenses were approved.

"The ATC has very defined criteria," said Rickers. "And we complied with those."

There are two ways you can purchase alcohol at those two stores; you can dine-in and order a beer with your food, or you can buy it for carry-out.

“When they purchase it, we carry it around the counter and actually physically give it to them as they leave the store,” said Rickers.

The stores do not sell draft beers or anything that has to be poured, only packaged products. Rickers said they’ve also made everyone who works in the stores get a server’s license, just in case.

“After we talked to the ATC and found out that we met their requirements, we decided we wanted to be extra careful about it,” said Rickers. “We decided to have everybody have a server’s license in that part of the store. We also card people twice.”

House Speaker Brian Bosma said Thursday that he doesn't blame Rickers, "They have an interpretation that from my perspective is wrong but was approved." 

Bosma says he thinks the Alcohol & Tobacco Commission ignored policy of the state that says cold beer and spirits are not to be sold at gas stations.

The House speaker says he and Senate President Pro Tem David Long will work to change the law during this current legislative session. "It's not about policy; it's about who sets the policy. We want to make it abundantly clear, as has the state supreme court and many other bodies, that alcoholic beverage policy is set by the legislative branch," said Bosma.

Rickers said it’s just a process and about evolving his stores to keep up with competition.

“The liquor stores in the state of Indiana are basically a legal monopoly. Nobody else can serve cold beer in the state of Indiana except the liquor stores,” said Rickers. “I think that’s fundamentally not consumer friendly, and I think people pay more because they only have one place they can go buy it.”

The Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers released this statement Thursday night:

"Ricker's is flaunting longstanding Indiana public policy by choosing to thumb their nose at the Indiana General Assembly and the courts," said Patrick Tamm, President and CEO of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers. "Per a decision upheld by the U.S. District Court of Appeals, Indiana has a rational basis for prohibiting grocery and convenience stores from selling cold beer as they are substantially less regulated than an Indiana package liquor store. The Indiana General Assembly has never given permission for a gas station to sell hard liquor, beer and wine for both on premise consumption and carry out sales."

In December 2015, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Indiana's law restricting the sale of cold beer in convenience stores and grocery stores.

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