By Ellis Smith, Chattanooga Times Free Press - bio | email
Rowena Belcher shops the wine selection at Enzo's Market. A bill that would allow grocery stores to sell wine is expected to come up in the state Legislature in 2014. Photo by Maura Friedman/Times Free Press
CHATTANOOGA, TN (Times Free Press) -
Tennessee's lawmakers and lobbyists are gearing up for a booze battle in 2014 that could determine whether or not grocery stores can legally sell wine in the Volunteer State.
The upcoming fight, which in many ways will mimic ferocious annual clashes held in Nashville since 2008, will pit grocery and convenience stores owners, who wish to seewine sold alongside food, against the strange bedfellows of liquor retailers and alcohol critics, who prefer to keep the system just the way it is.
It's a fight over thousands of jobs, hundreds of millions of dollars in wine sales and an estimated tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue. Stonebridge Research estimates that grocers could sell as much as 5 million additional gallons of wine in the Volunteer State if consumption rises in line with the average level for southern states.
But this battle is also about fairness, opponents argue. It's about honoring a pledge made by the state to more than 500 small business owners across the state, and maintaining a controlled, heavily-regulated system that keeps dangerous drinks out of the wrong hands.