The Debate Over Wine In Tennessee Grocery Stores

(Memphis) At the Corkscrew wine and spirits store in downtown Memphis, owner Henry Cowles isn’t likely to be offering a toast to the Tennessee General Assembly if it passes a bill to allow grocery stores to sell wine.

“It’s going to be a big blow to smaller stores in particular. It would be a great convenience to the wine buyer, but it’s going to put hundreds of people out of business in Memphis and Shelby County and statewide maybe a thousand or more,” Cowles said.

Last year’s bill to allow grocery stores to sell wine in stores was shot down in the legislature, but this year, the measure appears to stand a better chance of being approved.

Newly-elected Memphis State Representative Raumesh Akbari was in Nashville Tuesday, but told us by phone she’s open-minded about the issue.

“I think what the people in our community want should be put forward. Me, personally, it really doesn’t matter either way. I think what’s best for the community is the approach we should take and I know there are competing interests on both sides,” Akbari said.

In the past year, supporters of the measure have put more pressure on lawmakers with a petition drive and displays in grocery stores.

Grocery store customers such as Jacqueline Foster and Bill Pendergrass say it’s an issue of convenience for those who want to buy wine in stores.

“It’ll be more convenient for them. They go buy their groceries and get their wine and won’t have to go to two stores. It’s very simple and very easy,” Foster said.

“I travel the country and see grocery stores all over the country selling wine and I think there’s no problem with it,” Pendergrass said.

But for now some wine and liquor store owners say it’s not a done deal yet on a measure they hope will sour with lawmakers and voters, if they have their say in a local referendum.

“It’s not necessarily inevitable, but it will take some time. They got to pass it in the legislature, setup rules and regulations for Memphis and Shelby County and get a referendum going and in all that time we hope to change the path.”

If approved, lawmakers must decide if grocery stores could sell wine on Sunday and if supermarkets can be in direct competition with liquors stores located next door.

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