Indiana lawmakers have rolled back a much-disparaged law requiring everyone, regardless of age, to be carded when buying alcohol, but some retailers say they may keep up the practice anyway.

A new law that kicks into effect July 1 means store clerks selling carryout alcohol will no longer have to ask for proof of age from anyone who “reasonably” appears older than 40.  

But some retailers say they won’t be asking their employees to judge whether somebody’s hit the magic “40” mark, and will tell them to keep carding everyone, no matter how old they appear.

“We’ve got 60 cashiers working for us and that means 60 different opinions about who looks like they’re 40,” said Jerry Corliss, owner of the Chalet Party Shoppe liquor stores in Northwest Indiana. “We’re going to keep carding everyone.”  

Corliss, past chairman of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, predicts a similar response from other liquor store owners, who like him, were avid supporters of a short-lived state law that required store clerks to ask customers for their ID — even people who looked like their grandmother.

That law went into effect in July 2010, and state legislators quickly heard outcries of protest from people who hadn’t been asked to show their ID in years. By last fall, legislators started talking about rolling back the law. In April, they did just that, by passing a new law that only requires store clerks to card people who appear younger than 40.

Corliss acknowledged there were early complaints about the 2010 law, but said they’ve died down.

“The only ones who complain now are 70-year-old guys. They get real mean,” Corliss said.

John Elliott, manager of public relations for the Kroger stores in Indiana, said customer complaints skyrocketed when the old law went into effect last summer. “We had overwhelmingly negative feedback, but it quickly faded,” Elliott said. “Both our associates and customers got used to it.”

Elliott said Kroger hasn’t made a decision yet on how it will approach the new alcohol ID law. The way the law is written, it allows retailers who sell alcohol to continue carding everyone, in addition to requiring them to card anyone who looks younger than 40.

John Livengood, head of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, is encouraging his members to continue carding everyone. He cited a “compliance check” report released earlier this year by Indiana Alcohol & Tobacco Commission that found a significant drop in the number of violations incurred by grocery stores and liquor stores for alcohol sales to minors since they started carding everyone.

“We know from the compliance check statistics that it works,” Livengood said.

Making a mistake can be costly. Under the new law, retailers who fail to check the ID of someone who, for example, is 35, but may look older than 40, could be hit with a fine and the clerk who sold the alcohol could be charged with a misdemeanor. Too many violations put the store’s alcohol-sales permit in jeopardy.

But Livengood said small retailers are worried they’ll lose customers to the “big box” stores that sell alcohol along with a wide array of items, if those big stores decide to stop carding older customers.

“I hope many retailers will continue to card everyone,” Livengood said. “It would take a number of lost customers to cover any fines a store will receive if they fail to card a minor.”

Corliss agrees. He started carding everyone who came into his liquor stores three years ago, before the 2010 law required it. “All my worries went away,” Corliss said. “My biggest worry always was that we were going to sell alcohol to a minor who was going to go out and get into a terrible accident.”

Now his cash registers are programmed so that an alcohol sale can’t go through without the buyer’s birth date being entered into the register.

Corliss also said that he’s told his fellow liquor store owners not to worry about alienating older customers by asking for their identification. “The males over 70 who did all the complaining when we started carding everyone were less than 1 percent of customers,” Corliss said. “I can afford to let them get mad.”

Maureen Hayden is Statehouse bureau chief for CNHI’s Indiana newspapers. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com

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