With his white beard, lined face and gravelly voice, Gary Owens could pass for songwriter Kris Kristofferson’s younger brother.
No one would mistake him for a 20-year-old.
Yet since July 1, the 63-year-old North Chattanooga man has had to show his driver’s license to buy wine and liquor in Tennessee.
“It’s just one of many things in society that I have to tolerate — but it’s kind of ridiculous,” Owens said Thursday at the Vine Wine and Liquor store next to Whole Foods.
Universal carding for wine and liquor now is the norm in the Volunteer State.
Tennessee made national headlines in 2007 when it became the first state to make store clerks card everyone who bought carry-out beer. The carding requirement was expanded on July 1 to include liquor and wine as part of the new wine-in-grocery-stores bill.
Chattanoogans have mixed feelings about being asked to show ID, regardless of their age.
“It doesn’t bother me,” said Kay Parrish, 61, as she was carded for a bottle of red wine Thursday at the Vine. “I don’t really understand what the reason for it is. I know that liquor laws are stronger than other laws in Tennessee.”
Vine store clerk Leslie Cameron said most customers have taken the carding in stride.
“People are sort of flattered,” she said. “I think a lot of folks haven’t figured out it is the law.”
Jax Liquors at 216 Market St. in downtown Chattanooga has a chalkboard sign outside its front door, alerting customers of the new carding requirement — partly for out-of-towners’ benefit.
“We get a lot of tourists here,” store owner Punit Patel said.
Jamie Campbell, a clerk at Riverside Wine and Spirits at 600 Manufacturers Road, said he’s had maybe three people grumble about being carded since July 1.
“Everybody’s adapting to it pretty well,” Campbell said. “They know it’s not our fault. They know we’re doing our job. If we have to card everybody, it does make it easier on us.”
No concession for seniors
Universal carding for carry-out beer was sought in 2006 by the convenience store industry to simplify things for clerks and store owners, said Emily LeRoy, executive director of the Tennessee Fuel and Convenience Store Association. They face stiff fines if they sell to minors, she said.
“Beer purchases by minors dropped by a third,” LeRoy said. “There are some kids that are 20-year-olds that look 40.”
But after a year, she said, Tennessee’s Legislature made a concession for older beer buyers.
“If the person purchasing the beer could reasonably be viewed as 50 or older, then there was no penalty to the clerk if they didn’t card that customer,” LeRoy said.
However, the law that took effect July 1 doesn’t exempt wine and liquor buyers who look 50 years and older.
One theory among liquor store employees is that the Tennessee Department of Motor Vehicles benefits from universal carding. Drivers who have let their licenses expire fix that in a hurry, the theory goes, if it means they can’t buy alcohol with an expired license.
“It’s a great conspiracy theory — but no,” said Rich Foge, executive director of the Tennessee Malt Beverage Association, which helped craft the universal carding law that took effect in 2007. Convenience store owners who were tired of being fined for underage sales were the driver behind universal carding for beer, he said.
Ann Casey, a Chattanooga resident and transplant from Liverpool, England, respects aspects of Tennessee’s liquor laws.
“You have to have that blanket approach,” said Casey, 54, after she was carded Thursday at the Vine while buying a container of red wine.
Teens in England, who can drink at 16 in a pub if they’re accompanied by a guardian, have problems with alcohol abuse, she said. They’re targeted by cider makers, Casey said, which gear their advertising toward the young.
Georgia doesn’t have state law regarding the age at which someone should be carded, said Nick Genesi, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Revenue.
“It just states that you cannot sell to someone who is under the age of 21,” Genesi said. Some counties and cities have passed more restrictive local ordinances, he said.
Alpharetta, a fast-growing, upscale suburb north of Atlanta, initiated universal ID around 2002 after a drunk-driving accident there claimed at least one underage person’s life, said James Drinkard, assistant city administrator.
But Alpharetta did away with the law in 2013.
The city doesn’t have many drunk-driving accidents, he said, and officials couldn’t justify universal carding to new residents — including those from the Midwest and Northeast who especially bristled at it.
“It was definitely not popular among our residents,” Drinkard said. “We got a lot of complaints from seniors.”
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.