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Indiana Florist Lobbies For New State Alcohol Permit

by | Oct 10, 2018 | Floral Industry News | 0 comments

The Indiana legislature is considering a new permit that would allow local retailers to sell and ship alcohol — thanks, in large part, to the tenacity of florist Michelle Herr.

The Indiana legislature is considering a new permit that would allow local retailers to sell and ship alcohol — thanks, in large part, to the tenacity of florist Michelle Herr.

The Indiana legislature is considering a new permit that would allow local retailers to sell and ship alcohol — thanks, in large part, to the tenacity of florist and Society of American Florists member Michelle Herr.

For years, the owner of Banner Flower House in Kokomo has had customers inquire about sending a bottle of wine or a case of beer, either as an add-on or stand-alone gift (especially for occasions such as men’s birthdays or Father’s Day). In the spring of 2017, Herr decided to investigate the permitting process to allow this service.

“Indiana has pretty archaic alcohol laws,” she said. “No such permit existed.” The Alcohol and Tobacco Commission told her she would have to apply to be a restaurant, which meant adding a seating section and keeping enough food and drink on hand to serve at least 25 people.

“This is how Indiana laundromats and hair and nail salons have been getting alcohol permits,” Herr said. “The silly thing was that we could keep 25 frozen burritos and a box of powdered milk and we’d qualify.”

She had begun the process of becoming “a restaurant” when Ricker’s, a state-wide chain of gas stations, got alcohol permits through a loophole.

“It got the state into a frenzy,” she said. “Then they put a moratorium on new permits until a special study committee concluded at the end of two summer sessions.”

Herr realized it was her shot to make a difference. She started by contacting Indiana florists to see if they shared her interest in creating an alcohol permit for retailers. (They did.)

Then she contacted her local representative, Mike Karickhoff (R). “He wasn’t terribly optimistic,” Herr said. “But he said he’d help.” She also got her mayor to write a letter, in which he called the permit “a great idea,” as wineries and craft beer breweries are Indiana’s fastest-growing tourist attractions.

Herr started writing letters to committee members and attended as many meetings at the Indiana State House as possible, making a point to shake hands with legislators. She gave her testimony once. She was scheduled to speak at a second meeting, but the committee ran out of time. “All I got to say that time was ‘Please don’t forget the florists!’”

Throughout the past year, Herr continued emailing and calling committee members. She told them that hundreds of out-of-state companies drop-ship beer and wine through FedEx and UPS and, consequently, Indiana loses tax revenue. She also mentioned how important small businesses are to their communities.

She shared sample letters and representatives’ contact information with her florist peers, so they could amplify her efforts — though she doesn’t know how many followed through. Rep. Karickhoff also helped keep the issue top of mind with committee members.

Herr was unable to attend the committee’s meetings this past summer, but she watched the final one, when members voted on recommendations.

“I nearly fell over when at the very end, Rep. Terri Austin (D) mentioned my name and said she thought ‘everyone there had been receiving emails from Michelle Herr’ and that I had a legitimate request.”

The committee voted 9 to 1 to recommend the permit for consideration during the state’s next general session.

“It’s not a done deal yet, but I have three lawmakers who are helping me see that the permit —hopefully — gets through next spring,” Herr said. “I had never, ever considered doing anything like this. It was intimidating, since I’m not a public speaker. Most of the speakers were lobbyists for gas stations, liquor industry, convenience stores, big box stores, attorneys, etc., but I put on my big girl hat and just did it.”

Banner House Flowers recently started a line called “Local Favorites, Great Gifts…Delivered,” partnering with a number of small businesses including a bakery, jewelry store, candy store, engraver and a honey maker. “I think Indiana wines and craft beers would be a great addition to this line,” she said. “We don’t have many floral deliveries for men, so we feel this will directly impact sales for that demographic. It would also make great VIP gifts for hotels, realtors and corporate clients, as well as Christmas and Thanksgiving gifts for people who don’t want to send flowers.”

Florists in Indiana interested in joining Herr’s efforts can email michelle@bannerflower.com to be added to her mailing list for updates and timelines.

Katie Hendrick Vincent is the senior contributing editor for the Society of American Florists.

 

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