Grocers’ association seeks bill to allow wine sales in stores

Thursday, March 6, 2008 at 2:08am

The absence of wine in Tennessee grocery stores has transitioned from common gripe among citizens to an organized movement to do something about it.

For years, lawmakers have cast long shot bids at changing the state’s liquor laws to allow wine sales in grocery stores. Those moves are routinely shot down, sometimes without a second thought, while powerful liquor lobbyists look on approvingly.

Wednesday, though, the idea that’s traditionally been unceremoniously cast aside has regrouped and re-energized.

The Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association launched a new public relations campaign entitled “Red, White and Food.” A pair of public relations firms has been hired, including the powerful McNeely, Pigott & Fox, as well as a lobbyist.

Currently, 33 states allow wine sales in retail food stores, including five of the states bordering Tennessee. Tennessee should be the 34th, said Jarron Springer, the president of the state grocers association.

Springer said the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association is making a “long-term commitment” to passing legislation to allow wine in grocery stores.

“Why not wine and why not now?” Springer asked. “Why are we waiting any longer to make this change?”

The new organized movement is a result of the changing demographics in Tennessee where increasing numbers of people in retirees, tourists and employees of relocating companies are moving to the Volunteer State, Springer said.

Those people, curious about the state’s liquor laws, combined with Tennesseans who already want wine in grocery stores, is causing the charge to be led, Springer said.

“Tennessee has changed,” Springer said.

A bill to allow retail food stores to have licenses to sell wine is currently up for debate in the Legislature.

The legislation would only permit wine sales in cities that currently sell Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or whatever excites your palette.

Dry counties would not be affected and the bill does not allow every grocery store in Tennessee to sell.

While the movement to allow wine sales in grocery stores is becoming organized, it still faces an uphill fight in confronting the powerful liquor industry, which staunchly defends its three-tiered system of manufacturer-wholesaler-retailer.

Last year, that uphill fight was illustrated when an interim state senator on his last day in office tried to pass a bill through a committee to permit grocery stores to sell wine.

Not one member of the committee moved to support it.

Afterward, Tom Hensley, a legendary liquor lobbyist on Capitol Hill known as the “golden goose,” gave a short reply when asked about the bill’s demise.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Hensley, who represents the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of Tennessee, said last year.

Hensley could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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By: HokeyPokey on 12/31/69 at 6:00

On Wednesday evening, our Uncle Phil was on the radio, extremely upset that Harvard University - which never even heard of our Uncle Phil - is making allowances for Muslim women who wanted a little gymnasium time with no men around.OK, quiet down out there, yes he's a moron, but he's OUR moron!Then he went on to opine that if any Christians tried to pass rules based on their faith why, well, the ACLU and the New York Times and the liburuls would run them out of town!And I thought to myself, "Unca Phil, why can't I buy wine on Sunday?"I didn't say it out loud or even call in, it would be like spitting into the wind.

By: serr8d on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I miss walking into Wal-Mart and convenience stores and buying liquor.Just one of the many reasons I miss Arizona.

By: BigPapa on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Time to get rid of all the old Blue Laws. Just religious silliness.

By: DREIFMA on 12/31/69 at 6:00

We need wine in stores. I moved here from Missouri 17 years ago where you can buy anything virtually anywhere to the land of beer in groceries and wine and liquor in liquor stores. I also noticed everything was more expensive. I wonder if there is a lesson to be learned here. Yes on wine in grocery stores. Remember, reds with beef and whites with fish, whites and rose's with pork, semi drys with spicy.

By: global_citizen on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I don't know why this even makes the news anymore. It seems this is a perennial issue.Legislation is proposed to allow wine sales in grocery stores. Then the liquor lobby's hitman, Tom Hensley, makes the rounds to all the politicians who are in his pocket (which is most in Tennessee) and it dies. Repeat annually.I am glad however that the silliness of antiquated "blue laws" at least get a fresh airing every year when this legislation is proposed. But it's sad to watch the news and see the bought-and-paid-for legislators parroting the liquor lobby's words as if they're being fed to them through an earpiece... "concerned about drunk driving... wine is higher in alcohol content than beer... teenagers could get access..." All of these are bogus and patently ridiculous rationales that somehow seem to get taken seriously.

By: theplantsman on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Grocery stores? How about the Tennessee Legislature legalizing the sale and transportation of wine and spirits via the internet?

By: theplantsman on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Alabama’s Legislature is considering changing it law restricting the alcohol limit in beer. The argument against it is the same one passed around for decades. The argument for increasing the limit is that by allowing brew masters to increase the alcohol in their brews they would be able to offer more beers and importers could offer more beers from around the globe.

By: dman on 12/31/69 at 6:00

The strongest economies happen when the government leaves the economy alone. All these silly prohibition-era laws need to go the way of the dodo.

By: tim4wsp on 12/31/69 at 6:00

serr8d, Delta is ready when you are.

By: gdiafante on 12/31/69 at 6:00

It's pretty sad when Iowans make fun of this state because you can't get wine at the grocery. And if you've ever been to Iowa you would know what I mean.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

i had the misfortune of living in Des Moines for 11 months. i know what you mean - lol! talk about children of the corn....

By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 6:00

By: global_citizen on 3/6/08 I don't know why this even makes the news anymore. It seems this is a perennial issue.Its called trolling for dollars. Have to advertise they "might".

By: broadmeadow on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I notice your poll has over 88% in favor. It's time, for a change, for the legislature to enact the will of the people, instead of the liquor lobby. I am reminded of how silly our law is everytime I go to South Carolina and can buy wine when I shop in the grocery stores.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

in chicago, you can buy liquor at some gas stations. there was one station i went to down the street that was full service, so i could get my tank filled and have cigs and whiskey brought out to my car. that's a great service when it's 20 below in january!

By: frank brown on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I hope the grocers can buy direct from the wineries. Otherwise we will have to pay Lipman Bros & Athens Dist Co a cut.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

i'd like to be able to buy wine online!

By: lamons on 12/31/69 at 6:00

This is one of the best examples of our woefully weak legislature that literally defers anything on wine or liquor to Tom Hesley, a lobbyist. People need to demand an explanation of why this is not done and it will all come back to the influence of one man to keep consumers paying more and having less convenience. It is a sad state when we are one of the last states to allow this popular product to be sold at more competitive prices more conveniently.

By: viking on 12/31/69 at 6:00

One of the benefits I have of my move to NC is that I can buy wine to eat with my food when shopping at the local grocery store. The selection of wines include many of the NC wines made just up I-77 from where I live. We had to visit the Tennessee wineries to buy any of their wines.

By: JeffF on 12/31/69 at 6:00

where do I sign the petition. Hopefully this would be the first step in declawing the distributors in the state. They are the real power brokers in the state. The retailers and the maufacuturers are just along for the ride. Normally I would not be against a company's right to ake money but this VERY small group of businesses are really, really giving EVERYONE the sharp ed of the stick. They have had 70 years of being able to virtually print their ow money. The spigot should now be cutoff just like in the other states.Hmm, did we not have a govenor which owned one of the licensed distributors?

By: shef2 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I WANT MY TRADER JOE'S-!!! If TN allows wine in Grocery stores, we should be able to have Trader Joe's stores here-!!! L.A., Chicago, Nashville- YAY-!!!

By: Sumsrent on 12/31/69 at 6:00

THIS IS ALL WRONG!The lobbyists and politicians of this state are always changing the laws without listening to the people!There are laws! Why should the grocers be special?Wine and liquor store owners have spent a fortune investing in their businesses. Are they going to have the rights to sell milk, bread, BEER and tobacco!?Wine is expensive? What hogwash!I'm not a liquor store owner, but I can see that it's unfair to allow groceries to sell wine! They should stick with only food and the items that they are allowed to sell!The politicians tricked us into passing the Lotto telling us it would be for schools, what liars! Scholorships for colleges is not what I consider "going towards schools"! Can a church have Bingo yet or is it still considered gambling?I'm tired of this state passing laws that effect only certain groups, singling out others.If the groceries want to sell wine, then they should give up tobacco and beer sales! The law is the law, the rules are the rules! It's not fair to allow groceries to have the upper hand without compensating the owners of the small business wine & liquor stores for lost revenue!There is a reason why the Great State of Tennessee has wine and liquor stores seperate from other stores!