Eudora Brewing Company in Kettering is seeking help from its neighbors to serve wine on Sundays, although a bill in the Ohio General Assembly would lift Prohibition-era Sunday restrictions and eliminate the need for such "local option" ballot issues.
Eudora already can serve beer any day of the week, but the Kettering craft brewery is prohibited from serving wine and ciders to its customers on Sundays, even though it can legally serve those beverages Monday through Saturday.
The brewery’s founder would like to change that. And he’s not going to wait and see whether the bill that is currently pending in the Ohio House of Representatives will come to his rescue.
Eudora has launched a signature-gathering campaign to place a “local option” Sunday sales issue on the March 2020 ballot that, if approved, would clear the way for the brewery to serve wine and cider seven days a week instead of six.
Meanwhile, in Columbus, House Bill 219 would change state law to remove the legal barriers that are preventing Eudora from selling its full beverage menu on Sundays. The proposal would allow bars, restaurants and liquor stores to treat Sundays just as they would any other day of the week when it comes to alcohol sales.
State Rep. John Becker, a Republican who represents much of Clermont County east of Cincinnati, is one of two primary sponsors of the bill. Becker previously introduced a very similar bill in late 2018 as the session of the Ohio General Assembly was wrapping up, and that version didn’t go anywhere. But this time around, Becker said he believes the proposal has “a very good chance of passing,” although it has not gone through a full committee vetting process yet.
“I have gotten a very, very positive response, very bipartisan,” Becker said. “I feel good about it. ... I can’t think of one colleague who has told me they have serious concerns about this.”
State Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, who also serves as Speaker Pro Tempore of the Ohio House, represents a House district that includes Kettering and Eudora Brewing, and he was one of 15 legislators to sign on as a co-sponsor of the House Bill 219. Reached last week, Butler declined comment on the bill or why he signed on as a co-sponsor.
Eudora Brewing Company founder Neil Chabut said he would favor the legislation. “It makes sense, and I'm sure many businesses would be grateful,” Chabut said. “I wish it could be passed sooner.”
But he’s not about to call a halt to his signature-gathering efforts.
“We certainly aren't going to sit around and wait for the bill to possibly be passed,” Chabut said. “We already have over 100 signatures, so we'll continue with the process, and hopefully, we'll be able to sell wine on Sundays after the March election.”
Eudora must gather 275 valid signatures from voters who live in the “Kettering 2-A” precinct surrounding the brewery around the first of the year to bring the “local option” issue to the March 17 ballot for a vote, Chabut said.
“We hope to have all of the needed signatures by the end of November or sooner,” he said.
“We've canvassed about half of the district so far. People are definitely welcome to come to the brewery to sign the petition,” Chabut said. “Actually, we'd prefer if we didn't have to knock on doors and bother people. But we don't have much of a choice. If people do want to come to the brewery to sign, we just ask that they check our map and their voter registration status to make sure that they are a valid signer.”
Currently, the passage of a local liquor option for Sunday sales is required for many liquor, beer or wine license-holders to sell and serve alcohol on Sundays. These “local option” ballot issues show up on several precinct ballots throughout the state at virtually every election.
Becker said late last year that Ohio Division of Liquor Control officials told him the Sunday restrictions were put in place after Prohibition was repealed.
In its analysis of the bill, the Ohio Legislative Service Commission said the proposal, if passed and signed into law, would allow retail liquor-permit holders such as Eudora and other restaurants and bars to sell alcohol on Sundays “during the same hours that the permit holder or contract holder may sell those products on Monday through Saturday” and would eliminate local option elections concerning Sunday sales of beer or liquor.
Becker said his proposal will not affect the ability of a precinct’s voters to ban alcohol sales altogether and make theirs a “dry precinct,” but would eliminate the hassle and expense of the “local option” elections and of treating Sunday alcohol sales differently from every other day of the week.
Chabut said the Sunday restrictions are among several state liquor laws that are outdated and create senseless obstacles for liquor-permit holders.
“It frustrates the heck out of me,” the brewery founder said. “There are lots of silly laws like this one that prevent businesses from operating at their full potential.”