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Wine Bill Bottled Up in Tennessee Legislature

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- A bill that would allow grocery and convenience stores in Tennessee to sell wine will likely be bottled up in the Tennessee General Assembly throughout this year, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.

"We've had many new people move into our state over the last 10-year period," said Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, who sponsored the bill. "They come from states that currently have wine in grocery stores. They want to be able to go in and buy a bottle of wine."

Election-year politics, however, likely will derail the bill's chances, the senator said. Legislators would have to defend a pro-alcohol vote as they campaign for re-election this year. "I don't feel the votes are there to move it forward," Ketron said.

As a result, he plans to re-issue the bill in early 2011.

Under current law, 33 states allow wine sales in grocery stores, including Georgia and four other states that border Tennessee, according to the report.

One veteran wholesaler in Tennessee said he believes too much is at stake for small businesses if the Legislature changes the law. "When you explain it to people from the small business standpoint and putting your neighbor out of business, it changes people's minds," said Trey White, president of Chattanooga-based Athens Distributing Co. of Tennessee. If passed, the bill could give existing liquor stores 10 times as much competition because grocery stores greatly outnumber liquor stores statewide, he said.

But Jarron Springer, president of the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association, disagrees and said he thinks White should prepare to adapt. In his role as association president, Springer advocates on behalf of grocers and wine drinkers who want the beverage in the same place as their steaks. "The grocery industry is very competitive," he said. "We think competition's good for the consumers."

A compromise between both sides could occur. According to state records, one piece of legislation would allow local governments to hold referendums on selling wine in food stores as opposed to a blanket statewide law. Like Ketron's original bill, House and Senate versions of the bill have stalled in the state and local government committee.

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Tennessee Banning Wine Sales in Food Stores
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