Some business owners irked by revamped wine bill

Nathan Baker • Jan 30, 2014 at 10:15 AM

With a revamped wine in grocery stores bill working its way through the state legislature, it’s hard to not recall President Abraham Lincoln’s famous words regarding the impossibility of pleasing all of the people all of the time.

With at least three different business interests represented at the negotiating table in the fight over the often-proposed bill, it seems that at least two of the parties aren’t going to be completely satisfied with the outcome.

The latest version of the wine bill is now actually two pieces of legislation, one creating a new license for retailers, defining the stores that qualify as retail food stores and expanding the products liquor stores are allowed to sell, and the other dealing only with the local referendum that may permit the new alcohol sales.

The meatier of the bills, which skated through the House State Government Committee on Tuesday, opens up wine sales to stores with at least 2,000 square feet of retail space that derive 20 percent of their sales from food and food ingredients.

That broad definition could apply to a number of types of stores, including supermarkets, big box retailers, convenience stores and possibly even some larger drug stores.

Mickey Carter, owner of the Liquor Barn on Boones Creek Road, said issuing thousands of new licenses to sell wine could allow more opportunity for abuse and might not live up to the revenue projections touted by the bill’s proponents.

“They’ve told us that the more wine they sell, the more revenue it will be for the state,” Carter said Wednesday from her store. “The truth is, most of the places that are going to be allowed to sell wine are headquartered out of state, so the profits won’t stay in Tennessee.”

Additionally, she said the employees at most of the stores defined in the bill generally pay their employees less than the locally owned liquor stores.

To quell protestations from the liquor lobby, which largely centered on the potential for loss of revenue if more stores were suddenly allowed to sell wine, the House sponsors wrote in an extensive list of items that package stores would be allowed to sell if the bill passes.

Among those items are shakers, flasks, corkscrews, mixers, alcohol-related clothing, party supplies, coolers, ice, nonalcoholic beverages, snacks and tobacco products — the latter few of which has irked some convenience store representatives.

“We’re glad to be included in wine sales, but the biggest concerns for us are the items they’ve conceded to liquor stores: beer, cigarettes, snack foods, nonalcoholic beverages — they’ve hit all of our major sales categories in terms of what they’re willing to negotiate away to liquor stores,” Roadrunner Markets President Ryan Broyles said Wednesday.

By allowing wine in most of Roadrunner’s 62 Northeast Tennessee locations, excluding about a handful that don’t meet the square footage requirement, Broyles said the legislature has set up even more competition for the roadside convenience stores while putting inconvenient obstacles in their way as they attempt to secure the new licenses.

For instance, he said the annual costs for licenses to operate liquor stores is $850. The license fee established in the new wine bill would cost retail food stores $2,000 each year.

If the bill passes, liquor stores will be allowed to begin selling the additional items in July, but the state won’t be allowed to issue any wine licenses until July 2016.

“We find that totally unfair,” Broyles said. “Why do they get to sell the additional items sooner than we do? The dates should be synchronized.”

But Carter said the expanded list of sales items is a long overdue reconciliation for liquor stores.

“Presently, I’m not allowed to have any kind of food whatsoever at a tasting,” she said. “Having a little food in your stomach can slow the uptake of alcohol, and it’s common practice to have food pairings at tastings, but I’m not even allowed to give away a cracker.”

Many smaller liquor stores may also run into size limitations when attempting to introduce the litany of new sales items into their stores, Carter said.

The closely watched wine bill still faces a few more votes before its potential enactment.

It is scheduled for a full floor vote in the House today, but must still be reconciled with the most recent changes in the House.

In the House, it will come before the Finance, Ways & Means Committee next month and could come to a full vote soon after.

Recommended for You