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NASHVILLE -- Wine is back on the table for Tennessee state lawmakers, as a panel considers whether supermarkets and convenience stores should be allowed to sell wine, reopening the ongoing fight over the state's liquor laws, according to a report by The Tennessean.
The Joint Study Committee on Wine in Grocery Stores will spend up to a year reviewing the state's alcohol-control laws, the newspaper reported.
"They're asking a lot of questions, and I think that's a good idea, but the basic concept of the way liquor has been sold is very normal for most states," Bard Quillman, a Franklin liquor store owner who serves as a director of the Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association, told the newspaper. "I'm not advocating changes to the law that are intended to change the fundamentals of the law."
Liquor store owners and their suppliers are fighting efforts by the Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association, a group that represents 700 independent and chain supermarkets and nearly 500 convenience stores.
The grocers association spurred the debate last year when it launched a campaign called "Red, White & Food" that urged consumers to call, write and e-mail lawmakers to ask them to remove a restriction that bars food stores from selling wine. That effort includes a political action committee to collect and distribute donations to lawmakers who support wine-in-groceries legislation.
"We wanted to give Tennesseans a platform to talk about what we hear they wanted," Jarron Springer, the association's president, told the newspapers. "We've had such an outpouring, and people continue to sign up."
Liquor store owners and wholesalers are backed by one of the best-funded lobbying operations in the state. Last year wholesalers alone gave nearly $115,000 to state campaigns, while a group of wine retailers gave an additional $26,750, the newspaper reported.
Among the issues to be reviewed is the Tennessee law that prohibits a person from owning more than one liquor store. Some store owners have sidestepped the law by opening other locations under the names of relatives. But even in those situations, they cannot legally buy in bulk, share employees or reap other advantages that come from having multiple locations.
Liquor store owners also face restrictions in what they can sell. Ice, soft drinks and many other non-alcoholic items that are often used or consumed with alcohol cannot be sold alongside wine and liquor.
Grocers are eyeing access to a high-margin product and argue consumers would benefit from having more competition for wine sales. The state estimates permitting wine sales in food stores will generate more than $16 million in new revenue for the state and $11 million for local governments.
Liquor store owners, on the other hand, argue letting food stores sell wine will shift purchasing patterns without any long-term benefit to the state.
"You're just going to rearrange the chairs," Quillman was quoted as saying by the newspaper. "Grocery stores, it's a windfall for them. But the economics haven't changed for this at all."
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