Soddy-Daisy could have wine for sale at grocery stores by the end of the year if its residents vote yes on Nov. 8.
If the referendum passes, Soddy-Daisy will join Chattanooga, Collegedale, East Ridge, Lakesite, Red Bank and Signal Mountain, which approved wine sales in retail food stores in 2014. Grocery stores in those cities began selling wine on July 1. A separate Hamilton County referendum on wine in retail food stores will affect the towns of Lookout Mountain, Walden and Ridgeside.
Although no Soddy-Daisy grocery sells wine yet, a couple of package stores have established themselves within city limits after a 2014 referendum approved such businesses. Voters said yes to package stores by nearly 2-to-1, with about 2,700 votes cast.
Soddy-Daisy resident Nicole Harper said it doesn't matter much to her one way or the other.
"I'm OK with it," Harper said. "I sometimes drink wine, but I'm not really a drinker."
However, several residents on Friday seemed hesitant to speak about the subject, even if they signed a petition circulated by Soddy-Daisy's Food City to get the issue put on the ballot.
The owners of the city's two liquor stores voiced different opinions on how grocery wines sales could impact them.
"I have no way of knowing until it happens," Marcus Wolff, owner of Cork & Flask Wine and Spirits, said Friday. "However, wine and liquor stores are two different things and I don't think they will be able to compare to my prices or selection."
Raj Patel, owner of 1 Stop Package, said he expects grocery wine sales could hurt his business.
"It will affect us big time," Patel said. "We will lose."
Soddy-Daisy Mayor Rick Nunley said constituents have not really voiced any concerns either for or against the measure.
"It's been surprisingly quiet," Nunley said.
He said there were no public protests against the package store referendum in 2014, unlike several years ago when people demonstrated at the polls against liquor sales.
"For the city, it's simply a tax matter," Soddy-Daisy City Manager Janice Cagle said. "For us, it's a revenue source."
Cagle said Soddy-Daisy loses out if residents go to Hixson to buy wine in a grocery store. She attributed the city's changing attitude in groceries to new residents.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimated the city's population at 12,928 in 2010 and 13,171 in 2015.
"We've had some population growth, with new people who are accustomed to doing things that way," Cagle said.
If Soddy-Daisy residents pass the referendum, city commissioners will need to pass an ordinance to implement grocery-store wine sales, she said, and the whole process could be complete toward the end of the year.
David Smith, who manages the Soddy-Daisy Food City, says the store is ready to take on wine sales if voters approve the referendum.
"I feel pretty confident it will happen," he said during a recent store tour. "We already have two package stores within the city boundaries."
A petition circulated by Food City in 2014 failed to receive enough signatures to get the issue on the ballot.
This time around, the store really pushed to get signatures, Smith said. He said he had hoped a competing grocer would put some effort into circulating the petition, but it did not seem interested in partnering.
Steven C. Smith, chief executive of Food City parent K-VA-T Food Stores Inc., said in a phone interview both the company and the city will benefit from the grocery wine sales.
It will mean increased revenue for Soddy-Daisy, he said, and will allow Food City to compete against area grocers that already sell wine.
Smith said he could not see any downsides to in-store wine sales, citing demand and wine's association with health benefits.
"Customers tell me all the time they want wine in the store," he said. "I tell them help vote it in."
Store manager David Smith said that even if the referendum passes, wine sales cannot happen without preparation and training. Employees must learn the rules and bylaws governing the stocking, handling and selling of wine, he said. For instance, employees must be at least 18 years old to sell wine. Also, staff must stock the wine; unlike beer vendors, wine vendors cannot stock wine on the store shelves.
Smith, who has managed the store for 18 months, cites prior experience selling wine at the Food City in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., as an asset in making the transition.
Plans call for stocking the wine as close to the beer as possible, Smith said. A freezer aisle will separate the two sections.
"We can't make the store any bigger, so we will work with what we've got," Smith said, walking off a 56-ft. section of the aisle to show how large the wine section will be.
He said it will take time and work to empty shelves now stocked with gallon jugs of water and other items to make way for wine.
But if the referendum passes, he said, "We'll be ready."
Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @pleach_tfp.