The new law, which will be put to use for the first time Friday, has set off a quiet rebellion among many Hoosiers who say they would like Indiana to buck a trend toward permissiveness across the country.
MERRILLVILLE, Ind. — It is still illegal to buy alcohol at a liquor store on Sunday in Indiana, a red state holding fast to an old blue law.
Grocery stores and gas stations can sell only warm beer, a rule that embeds a sort of mandatory waiting period for impulse drinkers.
But in a state that has some of the quirkiest and most forbidding liquor laws in the country, one of them has been relaxed this year: For the first time in decades, stores and restaurants in the state can sell alcohol on Christmas Day.
In July, a law went into effect that erased a longtime provision that banned the sale of alcohol on Dec. 25. But the law, which will be put to use for the first time Friday, has set off a quiet rebellion among many Hoosiers who say they would like Indiana to buck a trend toward permissiveness across the country, where most states have overturned blue laws, coffee shops like Starbucks have begun selling wine and beer, and dispensaries have sprouted up to sell recreational marijuana.
Most Read Nation & World Stories
- Scientists expected thawing wetlands in Siberia's permafrost. What they found is 'much more dangerous.'
- 'I should have gotten the damn vaccine,' woman says fiancé texted before he died of COVID-19
- Mass. COVID-19 outbreak mostly infected the vaccinated, CDC finds; few needed hospitalization
- Two travelers submitted fake vaccination cards before flying to Toronto. Each was fined nearly $16,000.
- Forced to play in 'panties,' the Norwegian beach handball team decided they'd had enough
Many people in Merriville have vowed not to buy or sell alcohol Friday out of deference to tradition, religious beliefs or a determination that, in this culturally conservative state, some days ought to be kept sacred.
Thad Brody, who has run his store, Booze Liquors, in northwest Indiana for 42 years, said he intended to ignore the new law, keeping his doors closed as usual.
“Christmas is a holy day,” Brody said. “I think folks should pay their maker some homage, not shop for liquor.”
Mark Finch, a clerk at Grapevine Cottage in Zionsville, in suburban Indianapolis, said the store was willing to forgo the chance of extra sales.
“It doesn’t matter to us,” he said of the new law. “We’re still taking that day off.”
In the Midwest, where alcohol is readily available, Indiana stands out for its restraint. In neighboring Illinois, grocery stores often have full bars that routinely serve beer and Bloody Marys by late morning, and shopping carts with drink holders, allowing customers to comfortably sip a long-stemmed glass of wine while roaming the aisles. Even teenagers may legally drink in Wisconsin’s bars and restaurants, as long as they are accompanied by a consenting parent.
The push to allow Christmas Day sales in Indiana came, in part, from state Rep. Jerry Torr, a Republican. Torr said that he had never thought much about the law, figuring that if people wanted to drink on Christmas, they could stock up the day before.
But a bartender at a hotel restaurant in Indianapolis changed Torr’s mind, telling him that every year, customers who wanted to order a glass of wine with their Christmas meal complained about the blanket ban on alcohol sales.
The bigger problem, Torr said, is that Indiana has a patchwork of liquor laws that is confusing and outdated.
“It’s a complete mess,” he said. “All the statutes having to do with alcohol; somebody just needs to start over and rewrite them. It’s a hodgepodge of things that have evolved over the years.”
Among the oddities: Not only can grocery stores not sell chilled beer, but liquor stores are not allowed to sell cold soda or any food, even a bag of chips, Torr said. Retailers such as Target are banned from selling hard liquor — unless they have a pharmacy on site.
Some people would like to see the state’s liquor laws take an even more conservative turn. Kerry Drake, 57, a truck driver from DeMotte, said he wished legislators would pass laws restricting alcohol further. He worried that the new law allowing Christmas sales would just put more drunken drivers on the road.
“Alcohol is so easily attainable already,” he said, adding that as an evangelical Christian, he believed Indiana should keep its ban on Sunday alcohol sales. “We’re a values-based, family-centered, Christ-focused state. We don’t need more death and destruction on our highways from people drinking on Christmas.”
Leroy Woods, 50, a retiree who stopped for gas last week in Crown Point, said he was troubled by the new law about Christmas sales. A recovering alcoholic who has been sober for seven years, Woods said that during his drinking days, he would consume more alcohol than usual on Christmas because he was lonely and depressed.
“I’d sit in my apartment and drink,” he said. “I think accessibility is the No. 1 danger. Give society a day off from buying alcohol, especially on Christmas.”
The business community tends to see it differently. Indiana is one of 12 states that prohibit the sale of hard liquor on Sunday, said Eric Reller, a spokesman for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, an industry group.
Scot Imus, executive director of a state association that lobbies on behalf of gas stations and convenience stores, said the Christmas law was a step in the right direction, one he said would probably be barely noticed Friday.
“A lot of the arcane laws we have date back to emerging out of Prohibition, and we really need to look at those alcohol laws in today’s environment,” he said. “I don’t think the pillars of Indiana society are going to be crumbling on Dec. 25.”