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"The Rest of the Story"

Proposed changes in wine-sales law will hurt independent retailers.

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Paul Harvey recently died, at age 90, and I'm sure most of you have enjoyed his commentary and especially his signature line: "And now the rest of the story." Well, here is the rest of the story that the grocery-store wine-sales proponents and lobbyists won't tell you.

It is hard to believe that our legislators are even considering a change in the law that would jeopardize the jobs of more than 3,000 good Tennesseans during this economic crisis. The very idea that our lawmakers would contribute to increased unemployment at this difficult time is astonishing. Tennesseans are worried about putting bread on the table. That is infinitely more important than putting wine in a cart, along with your bread and milk.

Current state law mandates that high-proof alcohol, such as wine and liquor, be sold in independent wine and spirit retail stores owned solely by Tennesseans. The proposed legislation would take business from those Tennesseans and give it to grocery stores and big-box chains whose profits go to headquarters in other states. 

Furthermore, the legislation would break down Tennessee's tight system of alcohol regulations and control and jeopardize its proud record of public safety by increasing the number of outlets selling high-proof alcohol by up to 10 times (some estimate as many as 6,000 new outlets). In 2007, Tennessee had the second-lowest number of binge drinkers and heavy drinkers in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Equally concerning is the impact this legislation will have on the strong system of alcohol control and regulation that has existed in this state since the repeal of Prohibition. Tennessee put wine in special stores for a reason: It has twice the alcohol content of beer and gets people intoxicated twice as fast. By putting wine in any place that sells food items, the state will dramatically increase access to high-proof alcohol. Some things should not be that convenient.

Critical facts that proponents of the bill do not disclose are:

• Claims that the legislation creates $17 million in new revenue are not based in fact. Such growth would require the sale of 1.5 million more cases of wine each year — a 50 percent increase in wine consumption — an outrageous prospect that, if true, could create significant public safety problems.

• This legislation would strip communities of control they now have over who sells high-proof alcohol and where stores are located. If passed, any community that has previously authorized the sale of alcoholic beverages will have to allow the sale of wine at any place that sells food items.

• Wine is not food, despite efforts of the grocery and convenience-store lobbyists to market it as such. Wine is a potentially dangerous product that requires special regulation and control.

• Gas stations, convenience stores, pharmacies, corner marts, grocery stores, and all other stores that sell food are covered by this legislation. Proponents like to talk about grocery stores because they seem family-friendly, but in fact any store that handles food items would be able to sell high-proof alcohol under the legislation.

• No state has passed legislation to allow wine in grocery stores in 23 years. Since then, four have voted it down, including Kentucky, Colorado, Minnesota, and Massachusetts, out of concern for small-businesses and public safety.

Health and addiction groups, including the World Health Organization, report that an increase in the number of alcohol outlets leads to greater addiction, more violent crime, and more domestic abuse. In other words, more alcohol leads to more problems.

Liquor wholesalers do not hold a monopoly on the beverage alcohol industry in Tennessee. Disappointing as it might sound to some, Tennessee has the healthiest competition among wholesalers of any state in the country. States like Florida and California have two or three wholesalers; Tennessee has 19. Believe me, it would be difficult to create a monopoly with 19 fierce competitors. What this ensures is that Tennessee has more variety of alcoholic beverages and wine products than any other state.

Tennesseans must stand up for Tennesseans. We must put the welfare and safety of our state and our neighborhoods above all else. Just because other states are doing something does not mean Tennessee should follow suit. Concerned citizens can voice their opposition to the campaign to put wine in convenience and grocery stores at the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association website TWSRA.com.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Rommy Hammond is the owner of Buster's Liquors and Wines.

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