Some people who read or hear that the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of Tennessee has been awarded the Beacon Center of Tennessee's annual "lump of coal" award will believe the honor a distinctly dubious one. The wholesalers, however, probably think the opposite. The association has to be happy that another year has passed without Tennessee lawmakers approving legislation that would allow the sale of wine in the state's grocery stores.
The Beacon Center, a think tank and advocacy organization with libertarian leanings, gives the coal each year "to the person or group in Tennessee who, more than another other during the past year, acted as a grinch to Tennesseeans by bah-humbugging the principles of liberty and limited government." You don't have to accept the center's political-philosophical outlook to agree with its dim view of the wholesalers.
Present Tennessee law limits wine sales to package stores, where liquor is sold. Beer is sold only at grocery and convenience stores. That system has been in place for so long that few people care or remember why it was instituted. Whatever the reasons, it's time for a change. Tennesseans ought to be able to buy wine at competitive prices in grocery stores -- just like the residents of 33 other states, including Georgia.
The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers believes otherwise and uses its checkbook and influence to promote that position. For years, the group has forged a coalition of wine and liquor merchants, temperance groups, religious leaders and rural legislators to thwart all attempts to sell wine in grocery stores. Their arguments are specious.
There is no truth to the contention that selling wine in grocery stores will lead to more drunkenness, ruin small business owners or somehow reduce state revenue. Indeed, studies have shown the opposite to be true. State revenues increase, the level of drinking remains pretty much the same and package stores, which still would sell liquor, remain profitable enterprises.
Wholesalers can say whatever they want about wine sales in grocery stores, but the truth is that they are more interested in protecting the current monopoly than anything else. Hopefully, the "lump of coal" award will renew conversation that will prompt a change in state laws regulating the sale of wine. Tennesseeans should be able to buy wine in grocery stores like the residents of so many other states -- no matter what the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of Tennessee advocate.