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Wine legislation could affect local businesses

Caitlin Rickard crickard@lebanondemocrat.com • Dec 15, 2015 at 1:50 PM

Though lawmakers’ effort to allow wine in grocery stores didn’t work in 2013, it’s something that could resurface in the coming year.

In March, the years-long effort failed by an 8-7 vote by the House Local Government Committee.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, predicted that the legislation – pushed by grocery chains but resisted by many liquor store owners and the liquor distributors' lobby – will pass in 2014.

The measure, which would allow grocery stores to sell wine, is opposed by liquor-store owners, who say they would lose business to the grocery stores.

“I think it would close half of the [liquor] stores in the community,” said Ed James, owner of All American Wine and Spirits on South Cumberland Street in Lebanon. “Grocery stores already have plenty to sell, so why do they need this?”

James said he thought the system is working fine the way it is now, so he didn’t see a reason to change or fix it.

“I don’t see this enriching the quality of life in any way in the area,” James said. “You’re not going to sell any more liquor, just cut stores like us out. We’re against it.”

Gale Couts, who works at James’ store, said there is a lot more involved than just the convenience factor of having wine available in grocery stores for consumers to pick up while they also do their shopping.

“If it’s for convenience sake, is that really a reason to change?” Couts said. “If someone really wants something from somewhere they’re not going to make any qualms about stopping extra to get it.”

Couts said a big thing that sets liquor stores apart from grocery stores is the tailored experience consumers get.

“Grocery stores don’t offer the same experience,” Couts said. “You’re not going to get personalized advice on what kind of wine to choose, or what might go best with your meal or taste.”

Couts said at the end of the day she believed liquor stores would always have a better selection and the ability to carry more high-end brands that grocery stores might not be able to do.

“If this passes we’ll do the best we can and hope we survive. If we can, we can, and if we can’t, we can’t,” Couts said.

James said, by the numbers, in his store they were pretty even on liquor versus wine sales, with 56 percent of sales going toward spirits and 44 percent toward wine.

“Wine’s a big seller for us, if you two-thirds or however much of wine sales out, you don’t have to be an economist to figure out it’s going to affect us,” James said. “I hope they don’t do it.”

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