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Quit W(h)ining

Permitting wine sales in retail food stores will help everybody.

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by STEVE STEFFENS

You will undoubtedly see and hear commercials from Tennessee's liquor wholesalers trying to stop House Bill 1157/Senate Bill 0121. These companion measures have been introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly to permit the sale of wine in retail food stores in the state's "wet" counties. What you will hear are cries that this will put "mom-and-pop" liquor stores out of business, that teenagers will be able to buy wine, even though they may be underage, and that the world will soon come to an end.

What this bill does is allow retail food stores in wet counties to sell wine, for which the merchants would have to obtain a license. Store cashiers will have to identify all purchasers of wine, just as they do beer. If they fail to do so, grocers would face the same penalties as they do for selling beer to minors. Have you bought beer in Kroger or Schnucks lately? I'm 50 years old and I get carded, and they would do the same under the proposed law if you or I were to buy wine.

Remember, if a retail food store decides they do not want to sell wine, they can choose not to. If they do sell wine, they will be operating under the Responsible Vendor Law. And as the bill itself states, it would not apply in "dry" counties in Tennessee.

As the good folks at the invaluable "Red, White, and Food" website correctly note: "The license would be issued by the alcoholic beverage commission and only in a county or municipality that has authorized the sale of alcoholic beverages."

What is a retail food store? Here is what the proposed bill states:

"Retail food store" means an establishment where food and food products are offered to the consumer and intended primarily for off-premises consumption, not including the following: roadside markets that offer only fresh foods and vegetables; food and beverage vending machines; or establishments selling only tobacco, beer, or gasoline.

You see, the liquor wholesalers seek to hide the fact that the major grocery chains such as Kroger, Schnucks, and Wal-Mart operate their own distributorships in the states where they can sell wine in their stores. Were this bill to pass and be signed by the governor, wholesalers throughout Tennessee would be forced to do something new: compete.

Tennessee's liquor lobby has had a stranglehold on the laws and regulations for decades, leading to some of the strangest and most consumer-unfriendly liquor laws in America. Tennessee is one of 17 states that prohibits the sale of wine in grocery stores.

The liquor lobby doesn't care about liquor store customers, who would benefit from lower prices; they care about maintaining their control on wine sales and artificially inflating prices to the very mom-and-pop stores they claim to represent. When smaller stores can buy for lower prices, they can charge lower prices, and that benefits all of us who enjoy wine.

Prices on wine would likely come down on popular sellers, but if you want a nice Chilean merlot or if you have a question about a wine that's difficult to find, chances are you'll still go to a well-stocked local establishment. As for the mom-and-pop liquor stores, their sales are more likely to come from liquor rather than wine. However, with lower prices, their sales might actually increase instead of decrease. This frightens the wholesalers, who have not had to compete on the basis of price for many years. 

In short, the bill does the following, according to redwhiteandfood.com:

• It creates a license that allows retail food stores to sell wine.

• It restricts licenses only to localities where the citizens have voted to allow retail package stores (approximately 85 localities around the state).

• It provides liquor stores (retail package stores) the opportunity to sell ice, soft drinks, mixers, glasses, corkscrews, and other items normally associated with alcoholic beverages.

The w(h)iners don't want their monopoly to end, and they are not afraid to mislead the public in order to scare them. Ask your legislators to ignore all that and to support this bill, so that we can buy wine in our favorite grocery stores.

Steve Steffens blogs on issues of the day at leftwingcracker.blogpost.com.

See also "Don't Big-Box Wine!" by Hank Cowles.

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