Convenience stores seeking level wine field

Nathan Baker • Jan 28, 2014 at 7:39 AM

A local convenience store leader criticized state lawmakers and lobbyists Monday for shutting out his and hundreds of other business owners’ interests from the negotiations centered on an anticipated wine bill that he said could significantly cut into sales.

The latest amendments expected to the sweeping wine in supermarkets bill could allow liquor stores to sell cigarettes, one of convenience stores’ top-selling items, but would keep convenience stores from being able to sell wine, Roadrunner Markets President Ryan Broyles said Monday at a quickly called news conference at the company’s Bristol Highway fuel center in Johnson City.

The law, if enacted, would also fulfill its intended purpose of providing for local referendums to decide if supermarkets in the state can sell wine.

“We feel like they’re dividing up the winners and losers, and what we think is coming is that the convenience stores will be the losers in terms of giving up our biggest categories,” Broyles said.

While the grocery and liquor lobbies have been actively hashing out a deal with lawmakers agreeable to their interests, convenience stores have been severely underrepresented at the negotiating table, he added, calling for legislators to level the playing field among the three business sectors.

Losing part of their cigarette sales could be detrimental to the employment and expansion plans of thousands of convenience stores in the state, he said.

“On wine, we’re concerned we’re being used as a pawn in terms of a negotiation tool, and our other categories will be stolen away, so to speak,” Broyles said.

But Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, the bill’s sponsor, said the number of convenience marts compared to liquor stores in the state should ensure that any losses suffered from opening up cigarette sales will be minimal.

“There are far more convenience stores in this state than there are liquor stores — they’re outnumbered pretty handily,” he said. “If liquor stores are allowed to sell cigarettes, I just don’t think it’s going to make that much of an impact.”

The representative added that he believes the form of the bill that will likely come before the House for a vote will be agreeable to all parties.

“There has been discussion coming out about possibly cutting out big box stores and convenience stores from being able to sell wine,” he said. “Those aren’t things that are being considered right now.”

Lundberg said those proposals were made early in negotiations by liquor lobbyists and were never really under serious consideration.

The lawmaker dismissed Broyles’ concerns that no convenience store representatives have been allowed to participate in the negotiations.

“I’ve talked to them,” Lundberg said. “They came into the discussion late, but we have not excluded them. They offered to be at the table, and, not only were they part of the discussion, but they come out pretty far ahead in this, I think.”

All eyes will be on Nashville today when the bill comes before the House Local Government Committee, where it was killed last session by the deciding vote from Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough.

Since the March committee meeting, Hill has repeatedly said he allowed the bill to fail because there had not been enough open discussion on the far-reaching alcohol legislation.

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