Bi-Lo, Publix and Food Lion are soliciting support from customers to get wine sold in grocery stores in Hamilton County-but if that happens, business at smaller, independent shops could be damaged.
“Since my shop is located right next to Whole Foods, it wouldn’t even make sense for us to stay open,” John Smith, manager of Vine Wine and Spirits, said.
In March, Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill that allows wine sales in Tennessee grocery stores. But there’s a provision of the bill that allows voters in individual cities and counties a referendum to decide on the issue locally.
To get a referendum, a certain number of voters need to sign a petition.
The Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association has launched a campaign called Red White and Food in support of wine sales in grocery stores.
A Bi-Lo representative said that leaders support wine sales in grocery stores and that it will allow customers to communicate their preferences.
Susie Alcorn, Red White and Food campaign manager, said that-with two weeks until the Aug. 21 deadline for submitting petition signatures-they need more registered voters to sign the local petition.
“We are excited about the number of signatures we have so far, but know we still have work to do in Chattanooga to make sure the referendum gets on the ballot this fall,” she said in a prepared statement.
Another part of the bill that Haslam signed earlier this year means that liquor stores can now sell other items such as mixers and corkscrews that they haven’t been able to before.
That provision went into effect July 1.
Some local residents said they welcome the opportunity to buy wine when they pick up their groceries because it is convenient.
@ChloeNooga yes!! There is no such thing as too much competion. Other then religious reasons there isn’t a good reason not to let them sell.
– Martin Chapman (@ttintn) August 5, 2014
@catclo Yes, for the convenience factor. Much easier to just pick up a bottle of wine along with whatever I’m making for dinner.
– Run Chattanooga (@RunChattanooga) August 5, 2014
@catclo I will stick with my local liquor store…..But, Sunday sales would be awesome
– Mayhem* (@MayhemV) August 8, 2014
But Smith said that having wine in grocery stores will mean it is more easily accessible to those who are underage.
And he has 20 years of experience with wine and takes time to train staff to be able to help customers find the ideal bottle. That sort of service and expertise might not come from a grocery store, he said.
“I don’t feel like the experience is going to be the same,” he said.
And he doesn’t think people realize how the move might impact stores like his.
“It kind of baffles me that people seem so unaware of the situation,” he said. “We have people coming here all excited, [and I have to tell them] that we will either be put out or have to move.”
The Southside’s Grocery Bar has a wine shop attached to it, and leaders said that if allowed they would probably sell wine from the grocery store.
“We’d want to figure out the best and easiest way to continue to sell wines to our customers and how to best utilize our existing space,” general manager Eric Landrum said in a prepared statement. “Wine is already a huge part of what we sell. It’s just that for now it’s currently only available in the dedicated wine store off the vestibule at the store’s parking lot entrance.”
And Landrum said he thinks some alcohol regulations are out of date, such as the distilling laws that recently changed to allow Chattanooga Whiskey leaders to make their product here.
Allowing wine in grocery stores could be more convenient, he also said.
“Putting wine in grocery stores would save people the time of an extra transaction and sometimes an extra trip, and you know what they say-time is money,” he said.
John Millsap with Jax Liquor said that the bill likely won’t negatively impact his shop because it’s a destination location and not near a shopping or retail center.
And the portion of the new law that allows liquor stores to sell other items is going to help his business.
He will also be able to sell low-gravity beer in his store, he said.
“We are probably going to have better price points because we buy in bulk,” Millsap said. “It’s going to help us because we are going to be able to carry a lot of other stuff that goes with liquor.”
Updated @ 9:30 a.m. on 8/11/14 to add more information as it became available.