State Liquor Laws Require a Complete Rewrite

The issue’s not as simple as just selling wine at the grocery

Sometimes a thing has been patched so many times it’s better to throw it out and start over.

Since 1933, when the prohibition against alcohol was repealed, Tennessee, like most states, has developed a patchwork of illogical, inconsistent, and, frankly, idiotic laws governing the sale of liquor, beer, and wine.

This coming legislative session there will be a major effort to legalize wine sales in grocery stores. It is not as simple as it sounds; it was bumped from last session for more study. It is something consumers want and something liquor wholesalers and retailers don’t want. At present only people who own liquor stores can retail wine and they have to buy it from state liquor wholesalers. Unless you have your own vineyard.

Some legislators say wine in grocery stores might be a temptation for young people. Well, boys, I have a suggestion. Let’s put the wine behind the 50-foot-long beer coolers so the kids can’t see it. Considering the ubiquity of beer sales, from Pilot to Kroger and all points in between, the religious objections to expanded wine sales sound a bit hollow. But it’s a better excuse than admitting you are siding with liquor interests against the consumer. You’re just doing it for the children?

But there are some practical issues that need to be resolved. The law only allows an owner to have one liquor store. How many stores are owned by Food City, Kroger, and Food Lion? There is no other retail sector in which you are forbidden to own more than one store. If we liberalize the people who can sell alcohol, we need to remove restrictions on liquor stores. Can you have a situation where it’s legal to sell wine in grocery stores on Sunday, along with beer, but the law prevents a liquor store from opening to compete?

You can’t buy liquor in a store and take it home and drink it on Sunday. But you can go out and order it by the drink all day, then drive home. How does that make sense?

So you can’t buy wine on Sunday, but convenience stores and grocery stores are still selling beer on Sunday. (Unless you live in some of the counties adjacent to Knox County. There you can’t buy beer on Sunday. You have to drive to the county line, where the store is selling out everything in the cooler and tendering the taxes to Knox County. Knox County appreciates it.)

Have you ever wanted to start early on a Sunday for a picnic in the mountains, boating on an area lake, or horseback riding and realized you didn’t buy beer the night before? You have to wait until 10 a.m. to buy it—assuming you are in a county where you can buy it at all.

You go to the liquor store to buy a bottle of whiskey. Wouldn’t it be nice to buy some mixers to go with that? Or how about some really good cheese and crackers to go with your wine? No, sorry. The law prevents the liquor store from selling coolers, snacks, cheese, soft drinks or anything else that the alcohol consumer might want. This is the flip side to the argument for allowing wine in grocery stores. If you can get a bottle of red at the grocery to go with that porterhouse you just bought, why can’t you buy other things at the liquor store?

We might also want to take a look at enforcement. You have beer boards in cities and counties. But you also have the Alcoholic Beverage Control which regulates liquor and wine. With wine in the grocery store, will grocery stores have two regulators, one for the beer aisle and one for the wine aisle?

These are just some of the issues surrounding the idea of wine in grocery stores. Internet sales is another. It’s time for a rewrite of all the liquor laws with the goals being fairness and consumer convenience.

Other considerations should not apply.

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Comments » 4

Local_Yokel writes:

I agree completely. If the law is to be rewritten, I believe city and/or county governments should control wine/beer permits (any substance below 25% ABV). As far as the issue of Sunday sales, I don't think much headway will be made. There are still far too many people who are going to protest ANY sort of reform to the current laws (and there are too many politicians who need their votes).

JrVol writes:

Let's look at this issue from your point of view Mr. Cagle. Metro Pulse is owned by The Knoxville News Sentinel. And, who is one of the Sentinel's biggest advertisers? The grocery stores. So it would be in your best interest to have the wine in grocery store bill pass so that your company can continue to profit from big time companies like Kroger, Food City, Walmart, CVS, Walgreens......etc. I wish that your article was from a non-tainted point of view, but it's obviously not. The power of the press is quite strong but this is not really about the people. This is really about large corporations wanting to increase their big fat bottom lines and to snuff out the little guys. And its anazing to me that a rag like The Metro Pulse that feeds off of the people would recognize when they are being played for a fool.

meverett writes:

The News Sentinel and Metro Pulse are both owned by Scripps Newspapers. The News Sentinel otherwise has no relationship with Metro Pulse.

Local_Yokel writes:

JrVol, the fact of the matter is that liquor stores in North Carolina (where laws allow grocery stores to sell wine) still turn a good profit. And, from what I've seen, grocery stores there sell your basic wines (Sutter Home, Yellowtail, etc...). Seeing as liquor stores here are considered small businesses (for the most part), what it really does is shift their market. Instead of having to carry a very wide variety of wines (from Wild Irish Rose all the way up to the high-quality stuff), it gives them a chance to lower their stock and carry the more obscure brands that grocery stores probably won't pursue. Rest assured, there's still plenty of whiskey sold in this town to keep the liquor stores in business.

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