By BLAKE STEWART
For the first time in state history, Tennessee residents will be able to purchase wine while grocery shopping on Sunday.
Earlier in the year, Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill to allow wine and liquor sales on Sunday. Since April, liquor stores have been able to be open seven days a week, but wine in grocery stores is being phased in on Sunday, Jan. 6. The delay allows liquor stores to begin competing in the marketplace.
The original movement to allow wine sales in grocery stores was spearheaded by the Tennessee Grocers Association over seven years ago. As a result of their work, grocery stores began selling wine on Saturday, July 2, 2016.
“Sadly, on Sunday, July 3 just as many shoppers came into the door and were just as excited but those shoppers were told they had to return their bottles to shelf causing frustration,” said Rob Ikard, president of the Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association.
Customers were eager to buy their wine while doing their grocery shopping. With Sunday being the largest day for grocery sales, customers found that the bill was limited.
“With the Sunday sales, we anticipate shoppers will be excited,” said Ikard. “Wine has been a successful category for grocery stores and we think this will create an even better opportunity for both consumers and business owners.”
The newest bill, HB 1540, was controversial, just barely passing with 55 votes in the Tennessee House and 17 in the Senate.
Some Tennessee liquor store owners opposed the bill with concern of diminishing sales.
Joe Hobbs, owner of High Note Wine and Liquors has fought over 8 years to keep wine sales out of grocery stores.
Hobbs’ family owns three liquors in the state and says his family’s business has been impacted with sales decreasing up to forty-five percent.
“The big box retail stores are slowly chipping away at our business just like Lowes and Home Depot did to mom and pop hardware stores,” said Hobbs.
Hobbs says grocery stores selling wine on Sundays will hinder the liquor store industry in Tennessee.
“A lot of businesses can’t afford to stay open. We approximate that our sales increased 15 percent, but our overhead is around 12 percent,” said Hobbs.
While there is some opposition in the liquor store industry, others have been in support saying it has increased their overall sales.
Chad Murphy, who owns two liquor stores and a grocery store testified in a committee meeting supporting Sunday sales.
“We have always been for Sunday sales because it’s our busiest day of the week and being able to sell liquor and wine on Sundays has helped our business tremendously,” said Murphy.
Murphy added that wine sales in grocery stores has affected some liquor stores, but his stores haven’t experienced a negative impact because the majority of their sales are derived from liquor. “Any sales lost from wine are being gained back by liquor stores being open on Sunday.”
The controversy over Sunday wine sales will be put to the test on Jan. 6 when consumers will have the opportunity to buy wine with their groceries.