By Nathan Baker
While state legislators raise their glasses to what they portray as the inevitable introduction of wine into grocery and convenience stores, some law enforcement officials and prospective business owners in the community say they could be uncorking trouble.
Although the bill to allow supermarkets and other food retailers to sell wine has languished at the committee stage for several legislative sessions, both Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, and his House counterpart, Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville, have said they believe this is the year it will finally become law.
Both said they appointed members to key committees who will give the bills the push they need to reach the full floor for up-or-down votes.
District 1 Rep. Jon Lundberg, the main sponsor of the wine in grocery stores bill, says the issue is an economic one.
Lundberg said Tennessee is losing sales tax dollars to bordering states that already allow the sale of wine in grocery stores, and compares the state’s 501 liquor stores’ exclusive rights to sell wine to a monopoly.
But some of those package store owners, which in Elizabethton’s case are still in the permitting stage after November’s referendum, claim that the state’s tight hold on what they can and cannot sell will give large supermarket chains an unfair advantage.
“I think they should leave the wine to the liquor stores,” said Roy Hyder, owner of Sunshine Market on Lynn Avenue and one of the six applicants hoping to receive one of the three package store permits that will be granted by the city on Jan. 31. “Right now they don’t let us sell much of anything except liquor and wine. If all these other stores are suddenly allowed to sell wine, it would really eat into our sales.”