Roy Exum: Our Ridiculous Wine Wait

Sunday, June 8, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

My daily hideaway is a cluttered office above The Market on the Mountain, which occupies most of the first floor. The other part of the first floor houses a small liquor store where customers have to walk back outside, take about 20 steps, and go through a separate door to buy wine. That’s crazy.

In the grocery store is a lot of good stuff to eat, as well as a delicatessen where they make great sandwiches, hot food to go and sell wonderful salads. There is also a wide variety of beer, both domestic and imported, which is okay to buy in the grocery store. Nobody, outside the liquor lobbyists in Nashville, can explain to me why beer is readily acceptable in a grocery store while wine is out of the question until July 2016 at the earliest.

Tomorrow a non-profit organization called Red, White and Food will begin to ask registered voters to sign petitions that will make Tennessee like most other places in America where you can buy wine in grocery stores. The petitions, which will be overwhelmingly popular, will let Tennessee cities put a wine question on our November ballots, i.e. “Should grocery stores be allowed to sell wine?”

I can safely predict every city in the state will approve the referendum. It is just common sense for people who buy wine, and many of those who do not buy wine will also vote in favor of the question to show our lawmakers how much America detests stupid, archaic laws that limit the ease of daily living. The sad fact is the liquor store people spent a huge chuck of stupid money losing this war.

But the real kick in the face is that the liquor lobby twisted the legislature in such a way it will be July 2016 before the public will actually get to buy wine in grocery stores. Conversely, liquor stores will be able to sell grocery items like snacks, mixers, novelty items and other merchandise starting July 1, 2014. That two-year head start is not only unfair and un-American but – candidly -- isn’t what one person in the state wants who doesn’t just happen to own a liquor store.

The whole idea is to be able to buy wine in grocery stores – not pretzels with a bottle of vodka – and it is shameful that our elected representatives would allow campaign contributions from whiskey people to cause a ridiculous two-year wait. Candidly, I think the liquor stores are far from becoming extinct and believe a well-informed operator knows a lot more about a certain Pinot Grigio than a typical grocery-store cashier.

Already liquor stores in the Chattanooga area are feeling the effects of the Costco in Fort Oglethorpe. Because Costco is the nation’s biggest wine seller, they can offer the best prices and put a big dent in a neighborhood store. But the neighborhood liquor store can get creative, can show how much time and gasoline it takes to drive “south of the border,” and still compete with high-octane whiskey. That’s how the free enterprise system works.

I wish the Red, White and Food non-profit would offer two petitions instead of one. It is important that only qualified, registered voters sign the petition to get the vote on this November’s ballot but I’m hopeful that the legislature will change the “wine in grocery stores” bill to where it will go into effect in 2014 rather than 2016. Let’s send the legislature a petition on that. Allowing a small group of sore losers to defy the will of the masses is ridiculous.

Please sign the petitions to allow the wine question on the November ballot. And tell your state legislator “we the people” don’t want to serve a two-year term in purgatory before we join 36 other states in what is best described as “convenience.”

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