Wine in Tennessee's grocery stores inching closer to vote

Wine in Tennessee's grocery stores inching closer to vote

July 27th, 2014 by Alex Green in Local Regional News

A sign in a Kroger supermarket in Nashville urges shoppers to sign up for a group urging wine sales in grocery stores.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

NEEDED NUMBERS

The signatures needed per Hamilton County municipality to earn a November referendum are as follows:

Chattanooga: 3,865

Collegedale: 185

East Ridge: 520

Lakesite: 60

Lookout Mountain: 94

Red Bank: 291

Signal Mountain: 342

Soddy-Daisy: 333

Walden: 85

Hamilton County (unincorporated areas): 3,246

Source: Hamilton County Election Commission

POLL: Would you rather buy wine at a grocery store?

The drive to get wine in Tennessee's grocery stores is picking up traction.

Knoxville on Friday reached the necessary number of petition signatures to get a referendum on November's ballot, and Chattanooga proponents are attempting to follow suit.

Local residents still have time to sign petitions at Food Lion, Bi-Lo and Publix stores around the city, say representatives of Red, White and Food, a self-described coalition of Tennesseans who want to see wine in grocery stores. Their petitions have been out locally since June.

Hamilton County Election Administrator Kerry Steelman said Friday that on the eve of major county, state and national elections, his staff has not been able to tally all the signatures now in their hands.

After the Aug. 7 election, "we're going to be fully dedicated to this," he said.

Each municipality must have signatures equivalent to 10 percent of the number of votes cast in the 2010 gubernatorial election. Wine-in-stores proponents have filed paperwork to petition in every Hamilton County city and in unincorporated areas of the county.

Only communities that already allow liquor by the drink, packaged liquor sales or both are eligible to have wine in grocery stores.

The deadline to submit petitions is Aug. 21.

Susie Alcorn, campaign manager for Red, White and Food, said in a statement Friday that local involvement has been solid.

"We're pleased at the level of support in Hamilton County, and communities across the state continue to work hard to collect the number of signatures needed," she said.

Brenda Reid, a Publix spokeswoman, said of the six states that have Publix stores, "everywhere but Tennessee" allows wine sales.

"We have customers come in and ask 'Where is the wine section?'" she said. "It's not the norm for customers."

Local grocery store managers say customers primarily speak in favor of wine at the store.

Reid said that for Publix, it isn't necessarily a revenue issue. In the chain's Alabama and Georgia stores, "wine is not even one of the top five things we sell," she said.

"But it's a convenience [for the customer]," she added.

The effort to bring wine to Tennessee grocery stores scored a major victory in March when state legislators passed a bill allowing local voters to decide the issue via referendum. Gov. Bill Haslam signed that bill the same month.

The bill made some concessions to liquor store owners, who feared that allowing grocery stores to sell wine would hurt their business. Thanks to the bill, liquor stores can now sell beer, supplies and some food items.

As of Friday, 18 cities across Tennessee had collected enough signatures to put referendums on the November ballot.

But even if those pass, wine won't be sold until July 1, 2016.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480.