Bill to Allow Tennessee Grocers Wine Sales Withdrawn

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Bill to Allow Tennessee Grocers Wine Sales Withdrawn

Tennessee Grocers won’t be allowed to sell wine anytime soon, as the push to bring wine bottles to Tennessee grocery stores died yesterday in the Tennessee legislature. Proponents of wine sales in grocery stores on Wednesday acknowledged defeat for this year's session, but they vowed to press on next year.

Tennessee is one of the last states in the country where you can only buy wine in a liquor store. Currently, 33 states allow wine sales in retail food stores, including five of the states bordering Tennessee. But Rep. David Shepard withdrew his bill to change that. He says there just wasn't enough support in either the House or Senate to change the status quo. Under House rules, the move means Shepard can reintroduce the measure next year. Had the subcommittee voted the bill down, it could not have been brought up again in committee until the next General Assembly convenes in 2011.

The move was made in consultation with the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, Murfreesboro Republican Bill Ketron, and its chief supporter, the Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association, Shepard said.

Advocates of the bill said lawmakers need more time to get comfortable with the idea of a major change in Tennessee's "three-tier" framework for regulating sales of wine and spirits: Sales flow from manufacturers through a limited number of Tennessee wholesalers and on to more than 500 retail stores.

The issue has been a full-scale legislative battle, with both sides hiring top-tier lobbyists to wage war in the Capitol and PR firms to generate "grass-roots" support. The Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association launched a public relations campaign entitled “Red, White and Food” in an attempt to help push the legislation. A pair of public relations firms were hired, including the powerful McNeely, Pigott & Fox, as well as a lobbyist. More than 11,000 sent postcards from the displays, and a Middle Tennessee State University poll found 62 percent of Tennesseans supported wine in grocery stores.

Liquor retailers depicted the fight as local small businesses against mammoth chains like Wal-Mart and Kroger that would put them out of business, cost hundreds of employees their jobs and make it easier for minors to buy wine.