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Do you want to buy wine and liquor on Sundays?

Zach Vance • Updated Feb 22, 2018 at 10:56 PM

Although you can buy beer on Sundays in Tennessee, it’s still illegal to purchase wine on that day in grocery stores and package stores.

But after years of debate, that might change.

A bill permitting Sunday wine and liquor bottle sales is beginning to gain traction in the Tennessee General Assembly, easily passing the House Government Subcommittee Wednesday and making its next stop in the full committee next week.

Chattanooga Rep. Gerald McCormick, the House sponsor of the legislation, told the subcommittee  his bill represents an agreement reached between grocery stores, retail package stores and other stakeholders.

The compromise, amended into McCormick’s bill by Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Bill Sanderson, would provide smaller liquor store owners with a head start by allowing them to start selling bottled wine and liquor on Sundays the same week the bill is signed into law.

Grocery stores, on the other hand, would have to wait until Jan. 1 to begin selling wine on Sundays, but according to Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association President Rob Ikard, the clients he represents are OK with that.

“We're definitely willing to do that. It's reasonable when you consider that Tennesseans have known that liquor stores are closed on Sundays forever,” Ikard said. “This gives the liquor stores an opportunity to get folks accustomed to the fact that they're now going to be opened on Sundays, and we're happy to make that concession.”

Kingsport Rep. Bud Hulsey directly asked McCormick how everyone on both sides of the fence finally came to agree on the issue.

“It’s not just two sides of the fence, I think its a number of fences with different sides on it,” McCormick said.

Food City CEO Steve Smith has been a longtime proponent of allowing wine sales on Sundays.

“The purpose of what we’re trying to do is take some of the confusion out. The consumers, when they come to a grocery store, they assume they will be able to buy wine really the same hours and same days they buy beer,” Smith told the Johnson City Press at the time.

Phil Scharfstein, owner of OneStop Wine & Spirits in Johnson City and a member of the Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association, said he is staying neutral on the issue.

“It is what it is, in my opinion,” Scharfstein said. “It will go forward. I don’t see a reason why it won’t. I have some liquor store friends of mine who are very against it and some liquor store friends who are very for it.”

Scharfstein did mention he still believes Sunday sales will be more advantageous to grocery stores than liquor stores, considering Sundays are typically a grocery store’s busiest shopping day, while people will have to grow accustomed to liquor stores being open.

Package store owners opposing the measure have said they prefer to stay closed on Sundays.

Ikard noted that liquor store owners are generally opposed to seven-day sales, but in exchange for their willingness to allow the Sunday wine sales, they received some concessions to improve their business.

One of those provisions favoring package store owners requires liquor prices to be marked up 20 percent over the wholesale price, which is already a requirement for wine sales.

If given a 30-day notice, package store owners wanting to get out of the business would also be able to more easily liquidate their inventory by selling it off for 10 percent lower than the wholesale price they purchased it for.

“There's also some issues about the retail package store owners, when they close down the store, having to liquidate their inventory. It's a fairly complicated process and I think this simplifies it some and it’s to their advantage now,” McCormick told committee members.

Although it wasn’t included in the amendment, McCormick said a provision allowing liquor store owners to own and sell their licenses with their businesses might show up during the full committee meeting next week.

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