Tennesseans voting on supermarket wine sales

Lucas L. Johnson II, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee voters in several dozen communities are deciding whether they want to buy wine where they purchase food.

Seventy-eight municipalities collected enough signatures to place a referendum for supermarket wine sales on Tuesday’s ballot, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Currently, wine can be sold only in liquor stores. But a state law that passed this year will allow it to be sold by grocery and convenience stores starting in July 2016 if citizens vote to approve the change.

“This is the last step for voters in these Tennessee communities who support the issue,” said Susie Alcorn, campaign manager for the Red White and Food campaign, an advocacy group supporting the measure.

Only communities that currently allow package stores or liquor by the drink are eligible to hold votes as long as at least 10 percent of voters in the community signed petitions. For instance, in metro Nashville, organizers had to get 15,000 signatures.

The final determination will be made by a simple majority vote.

Arthur Oliver, a retired post office worker who lives in Nashville, said Tuesday that he voted for supermarket wine sales because of the access it would provide. He said he and his wife go to a liquor store for wine and occasionally order it by mail.

“It will be right there at the store where you can buy all that you need in one place,” he said.

And if his wife wants to purchase wine by herself, he said he thinks she’ll be more comfortable in a grocery store.

“It’s safer,” he said.

While the concept of supermarket wine sales has broad public support according to various polls, the measure had failed in several consecutive legislative sessions amid opposition from liquor wholesalers and package store owners.

Sen. Bill Ketron, one of the main sponsors of the wine-in-supermarkets legislation, said he wanted voters to have the final say.

“When … the polling over and over again continued to come back and over 65 percent, that’s what the people wanted,” Ketron said. “Then that’s when it finally dawned on me: I don’t need to be trying to cram this down people’s throats; give the community the opportunity to speak by putting it on the ballot.”

Right now, supermarkets and convenience stores can sell beer containing up to 6.5 percent alcohol by volume. Anything stronger can be sold only in package stores, which can’t sell anything beyond booze and lottery tickets.

However, as of July 1, liquor stores were able to sell items other than booze, such as beer, mixers, glasses, corkscrews, food and cigarettes.

Charlie Patel owns a beer store and a liquor store in Murfreesboro. He’s combining the two and changing the name of his business to reflect other items he’ll be able to sell.

Patel said he would prefer the law not be changed, but he’s doing what’s necessary to be competitive.

“If we lose 20, 25 percent of business, we might get 5 percent back,” said Patel, referring to the additional items he’ll be selling. “It’s not the best thing that happened to us; we’d rather it be the way it was. But we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.”

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