There's a new push in Tennessee to remove some of the restrictions surrounding when liquor stores can operate and when wine can be sold in grocery stores.
Proposed legislation by Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Rep. Gerald McCormic, R-Chattanooga, would permit liquor stores to sell alcohol and grocery stores to sell wine during the same hours when beer is sold.
Under this legislation, liquor stores could be open on Sunday and sell wine and liquor, and grocery stores would be allowed to sell wine on Sunday. Both types of stores would be allowed to sell on the five holidays when wine and liquor sales are currently prohibited: Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years Day, Labor Day and the Fourth of July.
In a statement, Ketron said it's not only a convenience issue for consumers, but for retail stores that would like to be open.
"Government should not be in the business of regulating a private company’s right to open on the days it sees fit. If a business wants to open seven days a week and provide a service or product to its customers, then the state should not interfere and let the free market decide,” Ketron said.
In a recent opinion piece, the President and CEO of Food City called on lawmakers to allow grocery stores to sell wine on Sundays and holidays.
Steven C. Smith, described the sale of wine in supermarkets as a "long, hard-fought victory," but one that many customers felt was a "hollow victory" due to Sunday and holiday restrictions.
Wine in grocery stores first took effect on July 1, 2016.
"The restriction came as a surprise to most consumers, who naturally assumed that wine sales would correspond with approved beer sale dates and times," Smith wrote.
He noted the wine in grocery stores referendum passed in 78 localities with overwhelming support.
"One of the things I learned early on in my supermarket career was that the first rule of thumb is that the customer is always right. Tennessee consumers are asking that our local legislators recognize that fact by granting them the benefit of choosing the most convenient shopping days for their busy lifestyles," Smith said.
However, many East Tennessee liquor store owners and the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association are opposed to this bill.
Thad Cox Jr., owner of Ashe's Wines and Spirits in Bearden and president of the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association, said this bill invalidates negotiations decided on during the debate allowing wine in grocery stores.
“Within these negotiations, there were all kinds of things that were settled. Now, eight months later the grocer association wants to come back and change part of that agreement," said Cox.
Cox said there is no advantage for liquor stores to be open on Sundays.
“For our association members, it's going to be a burden. There will be added costs at a time when were just trying to absorb all the changes that have already taken place. It's affected every body in our industry. It's hit hard,” said Cox.
Rob Ikard, president of the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association, disagrees.
“It does keep it fair because it gives liquor stores an additional day of sales every week and we think that must be good for their bottom line," said Ikard.
Ikard said a bill like this is common sense because it would align liquor and wine sales with beer.
"We are open on Sundays and we have shelf space dedicated to this one category that is not allowed to work for us one day out of the week. We’d like to be able to make it work for us seven days a week,” said Ikard.
Ikard noted Sundays are the busiest day of the week for grocers and allowing the sale of wine at that time would help their bottom line.
“If it were up to our customers it would be law last week," said Ikard.
The legislation gives liquor store owners the option of staying closed on Sundays. However, some say that's a choice they cannot afford.
“I'm surrounded by three or four groceries. So, I would have to open just because of the other guys being open. That's just adding more cost and expense,” said Cox.
You can see Smith's full opinion piece below.
Let Tennesseans Choose Their Shopping Days - Steven C. Smith, Food City CEO:
The sale of wine in supermarkets was a long, hard-fought victory. One that received the overwhelming support of more than 70 percent of Tennesseans.
For years, Tennessee consumers expressed their desire to have the same opportunity afforded their Virginia friends and neighbors, to purchase wine from their local supermarket, as opposed to being forced to frequent retail package stores. For more than eight years, retailers across the state worked diligently to make their wishes a reality.
The real pivotal point in the campaign’s success came as consumers themselves became more involved and voiced their frustration to local legislators. As a result, the referendum passed in ALL 78 localities, as voters overwhelmingly declared their approval of the measure, resulting in a long-awaited and much anticipated victory.
However, many of our loyal Food City customers have expressed extreme disappointment that it was somewhat of a hollow victory. As numerous shoppers learned shortly after the July 1st implementation date that, although they could now purchase wine along with their groceries, some very limiting and inconvenient restrictions have been placed upon the new legislation.
Supermarkets are currently only permitted to sell wine during the same times that package stores are permitted to operate. This eliminates two very choice days for consumers - holidays and one of the most popular grocery shopping days of the week, Sundays. The restriction came as a surprise to most consumers, who naturally assumed that wine sales would correspond with approved beer sale dates and times.
For the 2017 calendar year, this provision would restrict the sale of wine on a number of impactful occasions for our consumers, including 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
New legislation has been proposed that would keep the decision local by aligning the times that wine is available for sale with that of beer sales, which are decided by local municipalities. Senate Bill 947/House Bill 719 would also allow liquor stores to operate during these same hours, granting equal sales opportunities to both supermarkets and package stores alike.
The sale of wine in supermarkets has increased tax revenues for the state of Tennessee, boosted local economies, helped create a surplus of funds for our state and provided much needed revenue to many of our localities.
One of the things I learned early on in my supermarket career was that the first rule of thumb is that the customer is always right. Tennessee consumers are asking that our local legislators recognize that fact by granting them the benefit of choosing the most convenient shopping days for their busy lifestyles. Over 300,000 Tennesseans voiced their desire at the polls, demanding to purchase wine in supermarkets - unrestricted. We encourage you to express your opinion to your state legislators regarding this important pending legislation. Please visit capitol.tn.gov to contact your local officials.