Hamilton County cities vote to allow wine in grocery stores

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

THE WINE VOTE• Chattanooga: 27,573 -- yes; 7,951 -- no• Collegedale: 920 -- yes; 773 -- no• East Ridge: 3,250 -- yes; 1,285 -- no• Lakesite: 434 -- yes; 169 -- no• Red Bank: 2,004 -- yes; 702 -- no• Signal Mountain: 2,961 -- yes; 631 -- no

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Wine wins.

Voters in Chattanooga and five other Hamilton County municipalities overwhelmingly approved the sale of wine in grocery stores.

The win is a victory for grocery stores and consumers who want the convenience of picking up a bottle of wine with their regular shopping. But sales aren't slated to start until mid-2016, though Tennessee Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey hopes he can get that changed to the middle of next year.

"We've heard overwhelmingly from the customers that they want to be able to buy wine with their groceries," said Bi-Lo district director Rodney Dillard. "It's a convenience factor. It's one less stop they have to make."

Organizers of the Red, White and Food campaign spent $1.16 million in October trying to convince voters in dozens of Tennessee municipalities to bring wine into grocery stores. It took seven years to get the question on the ballot and pro-wine forces had to overcome fierce opposition from the state's liquor retail store and liquor-distributors' lobbies, as well as by some lawmakers who generally oppose alcohol.

Along with six Hamilton County cities, Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville and dozens of other communities across the state put wine measures on their local ballots.

Pier Morgan of Chattanooga, who enjoys a glass of wine now and then, said he voted in favor of the referendum but didn't feel strongly either way.

"Now I wouldn't go for liquor in grocery stores," he said. "But I think wine is just fine."

The biggest loser in Tuesday's vote will be retail liquor stores, who will lose their monopoly over wine sales.

"I thought it would be a whole lot closer than this," said Lori Sharp, owner of Bacchus Wine and Spirits. "We just need to stay positive and keep thinking about our customers, because that's what's going to keep them coming to us."

But changes in state law also recently allowed liquor stores to sell for the first time low-gravity beers and other non-alcoholic items like corkscrews and margarita salts.

"It might just even out," Sharp said.

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

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