MT. JULIET – With the renewed push on Capitol Hill for a bill to let grocery stores sell wine, several Mt. Juliet leaders support the idea of letting citizens decide via a referendum vote.
The issue is once again up for debate in the Tennessee State Legislature. As the bill takes shape, it leans toward local referendums determining if wine can be sold with beer in convenience and grocery stores in the state of Tennessee.
It would give the people in local communities the power to vote on this issue. In the past, this idea never made it out of state legislative committee, but there is an even bigger push this year.
On the November ballot, 71 percent of Mt. Juliet voters nodded package liquor stores in the city limits. Because of this overwhelming vote, some city leaders said it's a no brainer that Mt. Juliet residents would approve the sale of wine in grocery stores, if given the opportunity.
"It seems like there is a clear message here through the last election that the people of Mt. Juliet were not against package liquor sales in our city," said District 1 Commissioner Ray Justice.
He said if there is an opportunity to put sale of wine in grocery stores on a referendum, it most likely would pass. Justice noted that Mt. Juliet voters approved
liquor-by-the- drink via a referendum and also package liquor stores.
"I can't imagine why this would be different," he said.
Though Vice Mayor James Maness said he didn't drink, he thought Mt. Juliet voters had the right to vote on the issue.
"It's clear with this last vote that package liquor stores passed overwhelmingly," he said. "I don't see how selling wine in grocery stores is any different."
He noted that there is currently a "government instituted monopoly for package liquor stores."
"I'm all for the referendum," he said. "I believe in letting the people decide. It's just wine, not hard liquor."
Mayor Ed Hagerty voted against package liquor stores in Mt. Juliet, but realizes the citizens of Mt. Juliet approved package liquor stores and most likely would approve the sale of wine in grocery stores.
"It's a free enterprise system," he said. "I think wine should be sold in grocery stores. If we have liquor stores, why not wine in groceries?"
Brooke Porter Hawkins is the owner of Market Basket Wine and Spirits in Lebanon. The business has been in the family for over 20 years. She's concerned about the possibility of wine sold at the grocery store.
"We are a small, family owned business," she said. "It could hurt our wine sales up to 30 percent."
Hawkins noted that profits from her store stay in the state of Tennessee and that the large grocery stores in the area are based in other states.
"We give back to our state in jobs, charitable donations and over $200,000 million in taxes," she said.
She hopes if the bill passes, people will continue to patronize her store and buy wine there.
"We have customer service," she said. "We know wine."
This week some officials from law enforcement agencies went to Capitol Hill and spoke against allowing wine sales in grocery stores. Some said that more availability of wine would come at the price of public safety. Mt. Juliet Public Safety Director Andy Garrett said in Tennessee the state government regulates such things. He said teenagers are not allowed in liquor stores and there might be an increase in shoplifting if wine was sold in grocery stores.
"Anytime you change the quality of life in a city, it puts a burden on the police department," he said.
District 4 Commissioner Jim Bradshaw said if the state decided to give the people a chance to vote on the issue, he's "all for it."
"I think people should be given the opportunity to vote," he said. "Seems like that idea is already sold in Mt. Juliet."
Del Webb resident Sidney Payne led the charge to get enough signatures on a petition to allow a package liquor store referendum.
"I think selling wine in grocery stores is an excellent idea," she said. "If wine is approved in grocery stores, then soda, snack foods, mixers and ice would be permitted to be sold in liquor stores. Depending on your needs, both stores could result in one stop shopping. It's a win/win for the residents of Mt. Juliet."
There will be a workshop on how to mandate package liquor stores in Mt. Juliet prior to the 6:30 p.m. Mt. Juliet City Commission meeting on Jan. 14.
Managing Editor Laurie Everett can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 46 or at email@example.com