Voters in Chattanooga and several surrounding communities will have the final say on if wine should be sold in supermarkets. It's a hot topic that's received a lot of debate state-wide and locally for years. Only this year, Tennessee legislators passed a law that gives the power to decide to the voters in each municipality.
The Hamilton County Election Commission is still counting petition signatures for unincorporated Hamilton County, but they've already approved enough to place the issue on the November ballot in Chattanooga, Collegedale, East Ridge, Lakesite, Red Bank and Signal Mountain. Local leaders and business owners have strong, and differing opinions on the issue that's never been this close to passing.
Grocery stores now have something to toast to after all those signature drives this summer. Voters will indeed get to decide on allowing wine in supermarkets.
Now that several Hamilton County cities have cleared that hurdle, many local business owners are assuming it will pass in the November election. For wine and liquor stores, that means a lot more competition.
"I hope we're positioned to survive. I have eight employees including myself who depend on this store for their livelihoods," Riverside Wine & Spirits, Inc. Owner Chris Bratcher said, "we can sit around and cry about it or we can adapt."
One benefit the new Tennessee law provides those stores is the ability to sell beer, so many are stocking up and even making renovations.
"Literally hundreds of cases have just arrived today that we're trying to basically combine these two stores into one," Bratcher said.
On the flip side, local grocers are anticipating a boom, like at Mack's Hi-Way Market in East Ridge. Workers there are sick of turning away customers who want wine or a stronger beer.
"A lot of people just go over to Georgia so being able to sell the wine and higher alcohol, high gravity beer, we should have a big sales increase," Mack's Hi-Way Market employee Nick Benton said.
Some opponents say money is the driver.
"It's all about dollars. It doesn't make any difference what it costs society or families," Rep. Richard Floyd (R) Chattanooga said.
State Representative Richard Floyd argues that having wine bottles in a grocery store will just put more drunks behind the wheel.
"Been hurt by drunk drivers myself and so I'm totally opposed to more accessibility of alcohol in any form," Rep. Floyd said.
A break down of the petition numbers in each Hamilton County community is below. If it passes in the areas voting, the earliest wine would be on grocery store shelves is summer 2016.