Wine in Food Stores Gets Cool Reception

Tennesseans would be able to buy wine while shopping for dinner at the grocery store under a legislative proposal, but the bill is still hung up in a Senate committee.

The Senate State and Local Government Committee put off a decision on the proposal to allow the sale of wine in grocery stores. The committee room was jammed with grocery representatives in favor of the bill and liquor store owners against it.

Randy Stepherson owns several independent grocery stores in Memphis. He says customers who buy wine also buy better cuts of meat and fancier extras for the meal they’re planning – and that generates more “ring” at the cash register.

“The additional ‘ring’ will generate additional sales tax revenue, it’ll …create additional sales in our store.”

But Stepherson’s claim is disputed by those already selling wine in liquor stores, like Chip Christianson, owner of J. Barleycorn’s Wine and Spirits in South Nashville.

“Their claim is, that if we sell wine in grocery stores, that wine consumption in Tennessee will increase fifty percent… that’s what they say… I mean, any responsible person, on its surface, could say, that just doesn’t make any sense. And it doesn’t make any sense.”

Christianson was encouraged by the postponing of the bill. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, is drafting a new amendment to try to ease the measure past the committee roadblock.

Ketron deferred the bill for two weeks to work on the amendments. In the House the bill is sitting in a subcommittee, with no date set to be heard.

The bill is SB 316 Ketron/HB 406 Lundberg. The staff summary of the bill is here.

The fiscal note indicates that the state would increase its revenues by more than $13 million a year (the “recurring” figure in the fiscal note) and that local governments would share in an estimated $9.3 million a year.

Opponent Christianson says those figures are exaggerated.

The bill’s sponsor, Bill Ketron, says to get the bill passed he may make server training a requirement, instead of an optional step for retail outlets.

“It’s probably gonna require everybody who serves alcohol in the state of Tennessee to go through the server training and have to have a card. That way it eliminates any excuses for them not recognizing the facts of who’s intoxicated and who’s not.”

That’s expected to meet some objections that increasing the availability of wine would drive up misuse, or abuse, of the alcoholic beverage.
Ketron says he’ll also put off implementation for two years to allow grocery stores “to change their business model,” and loosen the restrictions on liquor package stores to allow them to sell other things besides liquor and wine – ice, beer, and party supplies, for instance.

Meanwhile the food stores who are seeking the change are selling the sizzle. Stepherson on meal planning at the checkout counter:

“If you’re planning on having a steak dinner tonight, a glass of wine…you get some mushrooms, the baked potato, some pasta to go with it….”

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