A recent Associated Press survey of state legislators found that only 40 percent of the General Assembly's members have decided where they stand on a bill that would allow wine sales in grocery stores. But liquor store and grocery managers have had their minds made up for some time.
"Who's going to stop at some little liquor store when you can get everything at Kroger?" asked John Vego, a manager at Buster's Liquors and Wines. "Sure, it's convenient, but you're not supporting local businesses."
If passed, the bill would place Tennessee with 33 other states that already allow wine sales in grocery stores.
Michael Hughes, general manager of Joe's Wines in Midtown (and Flyer wine columnist), says consumers who choose to purchase wine from grocery stores will not receive the same standard of service.
"Any independent business offers something special that the big-box retailers don't," Hughes said. "They know their customers' names and what products they like. That's something that will fall by the wayside when some of these small liquor stores are forced to close."
Hughes also worries about profits from wine sales benefiting large conglomerates.
"When you spend money at small, independent businesses, that money stays here," Hughes said. "At Joe's, we support a number of arts organizations and that will suffer as well."
Opponents of the bill also are concerned that minors will have greater access to wine sold in grocery stores.
Randy Stepherson, president of four locally based Superlo Foods stores, says his employees must enter a birth date into the cash register in order to sell beer, and the same would apply to wine.
"I don't blame the liquor stores for being against this. I'd be on their side if I owned a liquor store," he said. "But I really think it should be about what's good for the consumer."
Like independently owned liquor stores, Stepherson's stores also will have to compete with the big-box retailers on wine sales. But Stepherson already has some experience in that department.
"Nobody asked us if we thought it was okay for Wal-Mart to sell groceries," Stepherson said. "But we have to compete with Wal-Mart. Frankly, those who can't compete probably don't need to survive. Those who can compete will only get better at what they do."