Local control limits Sunday liquor sales in Illinois

Open for business: The Krae Mart in Martinsville, Illinois, sells cold beer seven days a week because state law does not dictate when stores can sell alcohol. Tribune-Star/Austen Leake

It looks like this will be the year Indiana ends its ban on Sunday sales of package liquor.

The state House and Senate have passed separate but virtually identical bills to allow carryout sales seven days a week. They just need to settle on one version to send the governor.

But in Illinois the decision is made at the local level and, as any Hoosier who has made a Sunday beer run across the state line has discovered, that leads to a hodgepodge of availability.

Sunday sales of package liquor are not allowed in Marshall or Paris, the two Land of Lincoln cities closest to Terre Haute.

In 2001, voters in Hutsonville, on the Wabash River west of Sullivan, ended 70 years of prohibition. In subsequent years, Martinsville, the second town along Interstate 70 west of the state line, and Chrisman, on U.S. 36 west of Rockville, followed suit.

“Wet” votes in those communities came with no restrictions on the days liquor can be sold, although hours of availability are reduced in Chrisman from other days of the week.

Hutsonville started out with reduced hours, but they were later extended.

The three small towns, none big enough for a traffic signal, have benefited from Indiana’s ban on Sunday liquor sales but it looks like those days will soon be over. If Gov. Eric Holcomb signs the bill, it will take effect July 1.

Mike Kraemer, owner of Hutsonville Foods, a combination grocery store, gas station and restaurant, is taking the development in stride.

“That’s just part of business. Being on the border, you battle all kinds of things,” he said, citing differences in tobacco and motor fuel taxes. “This state has this; it causes people to go from here to there … (or) there to here.”

Even before it became evident Indiana would permit Sunday liquor sales, Kraemer was pursuing a way to increase business. He has an application pending to install five video poker and slot machines in his store, something Indiana does not allow.

“It will give me something to offset the revenue on Sundays,” Kramer said. The village of Hutsonville will also benefit, he noted, by receiving 5 percent of “net wagering activity” - gaming industry speak for the total amount gamblers lose – as its share of taxes on the games.

In an indication of how reluctant local governments are to overturn longstanding traditions, Robinson and Casey only recently began to allow the sale of alcohol by the drink in restaurant.

Most cities that have been “dry” on Sundays for as long as anyone can remember are not likely to suddenly allow carryout sales.

“There’s not a need for it,” said Robinson Mayor Roger Pethtel. “WalMart is the only (business) that’s ever asked to have package sales any time.”

And, Pethtel noted, the retail giant built a supercenter to replace its original Robinson store even without getting a liquor license.

Robinson has one of the area’s most restrictive liquor ordinances with carryout sales limited to package stores. Operators of two new gaming parlors were surprised to learn they could not be open on Sundays, the mayor said.

Pethtel and Marshall Mayor John Trefz said they like the Illinois approach in which there are state regulations, but local governments control liquor licenses and can impose more stringent restrictions.

“It prevents a lot of underage selling,” Pethtel said, citing situations that have occurred at liquor stores where underage youths have purchased alcohol from clerks who were friends or relatives.

“Being the liquor commissioner, I can walk in and … pull (a store’s) license for up to 30 days,” Trefz said.

In another example of local authority, state law prohibits the sale of liquor within 100 feet of a church or school but Marshall uses its zoning powers to further restrict alcohol sales to its downtown and North Michigan Avenue/Illinois 1 business areas, Trefz noted.

While statewide control such as in Indiana might make it easier to keep track of the rules, especially for businesses with multiple locations, retailers seem resigned to local oversight in Illinois.

“The industry has to be aware of the municipality’s regulations,” said Dan Clausner, executive director of the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association.

“In some grocery stores and markets, beer, wine and spirits are contained within that department so wine could not be cross-merchandised with seafood or beef,” Clausner said. “In other communities there will be a display of wine right in front of the fresh seafood.

Statewide, the number of liquor licenses for video gaming establishments continues to grow, he noted.

“As an association, we are proponents of legal video gaming in on-premise consumption establishments,” Clausner said. “There are now more gaming positions in retail establishments than in all the casinos in Illinois.”

Dave Taylor can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dave.taylor@tribstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @TribStarDave.

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