By Josh Brown, The Tennessean
To hear one side tell it, if the state's grocery stores sell wine,
Tennessee will see more alcoholics, more underage drinking and the
collapse of countless small liquor stores.
The other camp predicts
an economic shot in the arm, stoking wine sales to new highs and making
Tennessee the purchasing destination for wine lovers who live near
State lawmakers are debating yet again legislation that would allow food sellers to also sell wine. A bill cleared a state Senate committee last week - the most progress one has made since supporters began their most recent push.
bill still faces hurdles: a win in another Senate committee before
heading to the Senate floor, approval from the state House, the
governor's signature. Then counties already selling wine in liquor
stores and restaurants would hold referendums on whether groceries could
Supporters and opponents are making their breathless arguments in the public eye. Here's what they're saying, and what fact-checking revealed.
• Sales of wine in grocery stores will lead to more alcoholism.
week, Vanderbilt University psychiatry professor Peter Martin testified
to senators that allowing grocery and convenience stores to sell wine
would ultimately increase the rate of alcoholism in the state.
major issue here is people want to sell alcohol because they're hoping
to make more money, and of course, they're only going to make more money
if they sell more," he said.
Martin, who directs the division of
addiction psychiatry at the medical school, drew a straight line from
higher sales of wine to higher consumption of the beverage.
"If you increase per capita consumption, you increase the number of people who are addicted to alcohol," he said.
Martin acknowledged at the meeting that he knew of no studies comparing
alcoholism in states that allow wine sales in grocery stores and in
states that don't, he pointed to studies that have found cheaper alcohol
has been associated with higher rates of addiction. He declined to give
a follow-up interview.
But Martin's view isn't universal in the
field of addiction psychiatry. Mike Baron, a Nashville psychiatrist who
specializes in addiction, said the measure would have little to no
impact on alcoholism in Tennessee.
"It's not going to make any
difference," Baron said. "I have never heard or never seen any
literature that those states that have wine in the grocery store have a
higher relapse rate or a higher alcoholism rate."
Recovering alcoholics will have little problem from increased availability of alcohol, Baron said.
they're going to want to drink, they're going to plan it out and get
alcohol," he said. "Generally those alcoholics who don't want to look at
beer or want to avoid it, they just won't go down that aisle. And
they'll do the same with the wine aisle."
• Convenience and
grocery stores aren't as diligent in checking identification, so selling
wine there will increase underage drinking.
In recent months, Madison County Sheriff David Woolfork has been outspoken against bringing wine sales to food stores.
said his officers have seen firsthand the impact alcohol can have on
underage drinkers. He believes the measure would worsen the problem.
"The fact that you have more convenience stores selling more wine," he said, "the more underage are going to be drinking."
Woolfork worries that convenience store clerks aren't as diligent in checking IDs as other alcohol sellers.
stores have such a tremendous turnover," he said. "Two words come to my
mind, and that's convenience versus public safety."
County wine and spirits stores appear to be cited at a higher rate than
food sellers, according to a comparison of citation figures provided by
law enforcement and state alcohol officials.
Since 2009, county
narcotics officers have handed out 59 citations to grocery and
convenience stores, of which there are 250 in the county. That
translates to a rate of roughly 23.6 percent. In the same time period,
state alcohol control officials gave five citations to liquor stores, of
which there are a dozen in the county. That translates to a rate of
roughly 41.6 percent.
The data don't reflect where agents choose
to focus their attention or whether stores had multiple citations, which
could affect the rates.
Law enforcement officers in Virginia have
found no correlation between underage drinking and sales of wine in
grocery stores, said Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia
Association of Chiefs of Police.
"We don't have a problem with
that coming out of the grocery stores, because they do diligently check
IDs," she said. "And the thing about grocery stores is that they do have
better surveillance systems."
• If shoppers are allowed to
buy wine at the same time as their food, then wine and spirits stores
will lose money and be forced to close.
"It would be
devastating," said Bard Quillman, owner of Red Dog Wine & Spirits in
Franklin. "I can't tell you exactly what I'm going to lose, but I can
tell you I'm going to lose."
Quillman, who serves on the board of
the Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association, said if people
buy more wine, it also could hurt sales of other goods.
buy more wine, that purchase comes out of their discretionary income,"
he said. "If I choose to buy a bottle of wine, then I will choose to not
buy something else. I won't buy a movie ticket. I won't go out to
Other wine store owners acknowledge some changes could allow them to survive if the measure passes.
Barnett, general manager of McScrooge's Wines & Spirits in
Knoxville, wrote a letter to a lawmaker urging changes to allow stores
like his to sell items other than high-alcohol beverages. "We would
welcome the ability to sell beer, glassware, apparel and any other
items," he wrote.
Barnett also wants lawmakers to let liquor store
operators own multiple locations and stay open 365 days a year -
instead of being closed on Sundays and certain holidays.
legal changes may bring the opportunity to create stronger, retail
stores that will, in the end, create more jobs, in addition to revenue
for local citizens, the city and the state," he wrote.
Jayson Butler, who owns Highway 64 Liquor Store in Giles County, has arrived at the same conclusion.
definitely not ready for the grocery stores being able to sell the
wine," he said. "I don't want to go into this thing empty-handed. If it
passes with nothing else, it's going to be bad."
Butler also wants
more freedom to expand the items he sells, such as accessories - like
wine stoppers and corkscrews - and low-alcohol beer.
really made any sense to me, not being able to sell low-gravity beer,"
he said. "But that's the way it was, and I played by the rules."
• Tennessee is losing tax revenue from shoppers who live near the border with states that allow grocery stores to sell wine.
shoppers don't live far from wine-selling groceries across state
borders, they will drive a little farther and spend their money out of
state, the grocery lobby contends.
There's anecdotal evidence that
really happens. In recent years, Costco Wholesale Corp. opened one of
its large retail stores just over the state line in Georgia near
Chattanooga. Ron Harr, head of Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce,
said that since the store opened, Chattanooga residents have streamed
across the state line to shop.
"Our concern is the loss of the tax
revenue," he said. "People are not only buying their wine there, but
they're buying their groceries. We'd rather they keep that tax revenue
But it's likely factors other than convenience of buying wine and food at the same time are prompting the longer drive.
check Friday showed that at that Costco store across the Georgia line,
a bottle of St. Francis cabernet sauvignon was $14.99 plus 7 percent
sales tax. The same bottle at Riverside Wine, Spirits and Beverages in
Chattanooga was $19.99 plus 9.25 percent tax. An Erath pinot noir cost
$14.99 at the big-box store, $19.99 at the wine store.