MURFREESBO RO -- State Sen. Bill Ketron will once again sponsor legislation that could lead to grocery stores selling wine if approved by a referendum.
"I think we have a real good shot at passing it this year," the Murfreesboro Republican senator said during a recent phone interview. "I've been carrying it for seven years. They say wine is not good until its time.
Ketron, though, continues to face opposition, including from state Rep. Mike Sparks, a Smyrna Republican.
After spending part of today discussing the wine bill with stake holders who represent various industries, Ketron will join others serving in Rutherford County's six-member delegation in the Tennessee General Assembly to discuss various legislation and state funding with the County Commission Steering, Legislative & Governmental Committee. The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. today in the second-floor courtroom of the County Courthouse on the Public Square in Murfreesboro.
Murfreesboro liquor store owner Steve Tambornini supports the idea of holding a referendum on allowing grocery stores to sell wine as well as permitting liquor stores to sell beer, soft drinks, cork screws, T-shirts and other products.
"Give the people a shot at making a decision," said Tambornini, the owner of a business named after his boyhood dog, MacGregor's Wines and Liquors. "That's what a referendum does. The politicians can't figure it out. They leave it up to the voters. I think people ought to have a voice."
Ketron said his bill, if signed into law by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, will allow counties that have previously passed referendums to permit restaurants or stores to sell liquor to have the option to hold another referendum to see if voters favor wine being sold in grocery stores.
"About half the counties would be eligible to host a referendum," said Ketron, noting that his Monday meeting will include stake-holding representatives from grocery stores, liquor stores and wholesalebeer distributors. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the Republican who leads the Senate, and Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, who is also in the GOP, will be at the meeting, the senator said.Ketron noted that it would take a petition drive with signatures of around 10 percent of a county's registered voters to get the referendum on a ballot. In Rutherford County, that would be around 15,000 signatures, he said.
Ketron expects that grocery stores will set up tables to pursue signatures for petitions.
The senator said liquor stores may lose wine sales but will be able to sell T-shirts, cigarettes, crackers and cheese, ice, Bloody Mary mix, ice, and "whatever they want to sell."
"They'll have to change their business model, of course," Ketron said. "Why should they be restricted to sell liquor only?"
Liquor store owners near grocery stores will have a difficult time competing, said Tambornini, who expects that his shop at the northeast corner of Memorial Boulevard and Lokey Avenue will continue to thrive because its farther from national retailers such as Kroger and Walmart.
"If I can sell other things, I will do well," Tambornini said.
Although he really doesn't want to have to give up his share of wine sales, Tambornini said he does like the idea of attracting customers looking to buy all of their drinking needs in one place.
"If that's the trade off, then I'm willing to give that (part of wine sale market) up to sell other things," said Tambornini, noting that he remains neutral on the issue while waiting on the lawmakers to figure out what to do. "I don't (support) either side. It has never been distilled down to its basics."
What bothers him is that politicians can't make up their minds.
"There's no commonsense approach to politics," Tambornini said. "It's no different than what's going on in Washington (D.C.). They can't figure out how to do anything in the Senate or the House."
Rep. Sparks said he opposes allowing large grocery store chains to sell wine because it will make it harder for the liquor store owners.
"These guys are small business owners, and many of them have their life's savings tied up in their stores," Sparks said. "Those guys have played by the rules that the state and the locals have placed on them, and they may have $1 million or more tied up in the stores. They are only allowed to own one. They don't have the economies of scale like Kroger does."
Sparks said he favors free-market principles if it applies equally to all stake holders, including the distributors.
"We should make it competitive among the distributors, and not allow monopolies," said Sparks, adding that he too is asmall business owner in car wholesales and his wife owns a salon.