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Wine and groceries mix well: Poll

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A non-scientific poll on the Times-Gazette web site indicates strong support for the idea of selling wine in grocery stores.

In a web site poll asking "Should wine be sold in grocery stores?", 187 users -- 76 percent -- answered "yes," while 59 users, or 24 percent, said "no."

The issue has been debated for several years without any changes making their way into law. Recent news reports indicate it may have a better chance of passage in the upcoming state legislative session, due to support from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, both Republicans, who make committee appointments in the Senate and the House respectively.

Pro and con

Proponents say that wine, which is paired with food and used in cooking, is a natural fit for grocery stores, and it's sold in grocery stores in 35 states. Beer is already sold in grocery stores, so there are already procedures in place to check the age of purchasers.

Opponents say that allowing chain supermarkets to begin selling wine would be devastating competition for the mom-and-pop liquor stores where it's now sold. Those liquor stores are heavily regulated and can only sell alcoholic beverages, nothing else.

Some proposals have suggested lifting some of those restrictions as consolation for allowing supermarket wine sales, but opponents of wine in supermarkets have responded that the proposed changes wouldn't really help liquor stores all that much or would give a pretense for minors to enter liquor stores.

Legislators' views

Lobbyists on both sides of the issue have been talking to legislators for several days. Supermarket owners have had a campaign called "Red, White and Food" with in-store displays and postcards to try to recruit citizens to petition their state legislators.

Bedford County's two state legislators are reacting cautiously to the issue.

"There's a lot of questions that's got to be asked about all that yet," said State Sen. Jim Tracy on Friday, adding he'd need to take a closer look at whatever the specific proposal turns out to be before supporting or opposing it.

"It is going to be an issue," he said.

State Rep. Pat Marsh said he's "not really for that right now" when asked about wine in groceries.

"I myself would like to see wine in grocery stores," he said, "but I don't think it's right for the liquor stores to lose this business when they've been handcuffed for so long." He said the state should gradually change the law to open up revenue streams for the liquor stores before implementing a wine-in-supermarkets proposal.

"I'm probably against it at the present time until they can make some concessions for the liquor stores," he said.

Web comments

Web poll participants from both sides of the issue left comments.

"There would be less control over sales," wrote one participant. "If you let [grocery] stores sell wine you should let package stores sell food."

"Yes, wine should be sold in [grocery] stores," wrote another participant. "If a person wants the wine they are going to get it anyway, from the store or [a] liquor store."

Voluntary, self-selected web site polls aren't considered scientific because there's no way to guarantee that the people who choose to participate represent a true cross-section of the target population.

Possible plan

The proposal discussed most recently would, if approved, make wine in supermarkets a local referendum issue. If such a law were to pass statewide, it would still be up to each community to vote on whether to allow wine sales locally.

Supermarket wine referendums would only be allowed in communities where liquor is already available. But it's not certain what the final proposal would be once it passed through the committee process and was voted on by the House and Senate.