Tennessee voters in 80 local jurisdictions across the state will have their say in November on whether or not to legalize wine sales at local grocery stores.
The election will cap an historic year for advocates of localizing control of wine sales. For years they’ve been pressing the state Legislature to ease a Tennessee-wide mandate that only liquor stores can sell wine. Legislation passed overwhelmingly in both the state House and Senate this year to grant voters in jurisdictions that already permit liquor-by-the-drink to authorize wine sales in certain retail outlets besides liquor stores.
Supporters of the measures had to gather signatures from 10 percent of voters in their communities by Aug. 21 to force referendums. Overall 262,247 signatures were gathered across the state by the campaign.
Susie Alcorn, who’s managing the wine-in-supermarkets ballot push for the grocery-industry backed group, Red White and Food, indicated in an email that supporters of the measures are in high spirits. “Our goal has always been to give Tennesseans the opportunity to vote on where wine can be sold in their communities. And now we know that 80 communities will get that opportunity in November.”
Murfreesboro Republican Bill Ketron, the Senate sponsor of the wine-in-groceries bill, said he “was a little nervous” as the signature-gathering deadline was approaching, when there were still a few big municipalities, like Nashville and Memphis, that hadn’t collected enough names to get a measure on the ballot.
“There were several cities I had concern over, but it appears now that they have qualified,” Ketron said Friday. “People will have an opportunity come November to say yes or no.”
Even though a local measure might passes this year, grocery stores won’t be able to sell wine before July 2016. However, under the new law, liquor stores have been freed to sell more products in the interim.
Ketron suggested that while liquor store-owners have in the past been “violently opposed” to sharing retail wine markets, they do appear to be taking full advantage of the two-year window the legislation granted. They’re becoming “convenience stores on steroids,” he said.
State Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, the legislation’s House sponsor, told TNReport Friday that getting wine into grocery stores is a three-part process, and the second part — getting the proposal on the ballot — has gone “really well.” The first part of the process was getting it through the General Assembly.
“No. 3 is exactly what should happen — we give voters the opportunity to say whether they want to have wine in grocery stores and food retail stores in their municipality,” Lundberg said. “Now we’re set for November.”