A proposal described as a breakthrough in the wine-in-grocery stores debate received a cool reception at the state Capitol on Tuesday.
A measure that would let grocery stores — but not convenience stores or big-box retailers — sell wine was met with skepticism a day after it was floated by the main lobbyist for liquor stores.
The Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association, a group that includes most traditional supermarkets, described negotiations as "fluid." The head of the Tennessee Fuel & Convenience Store Association, which mainly represents gas stations and other small retailers, said the organization opposes the suggestion.
"We are not afraid of competition," executive director Emily LeRoy said. "We don't want to be eliminated from competition."
Wine-in-grocery stores legislation has failed in the past mainly because of opposition from liquor stores and wholesalers. They argue that Tennessee laws separating sales of beer from wine and liquor discourage excess drinking. It would be unfair to them, they say, if grocery stores were allowed to carry wine while they faced significant restrictions on what they can sell.
Last year, a Senate committee approved a bill that would lift many of those restrictions, as well as ownership limits on liquor stores. The bill also would let food retailers sell wine, if voters approve through a local referendum.
David McMahan, a lobbyist for liquor retailers, said Monday the two sides were "very, very close" to a deal that would let that bill go forward — with a stipulation that it would apply only to supermarkets. Other food retailers would be excluded.
Walmart, one of the state's biggest food sellers, said it does not support proposals that place an "arbitrary limit" on customers.
"The ability to purchase wine as part of a grocery visit is an added convenience for Tennessee consumers and an option our customers want," the company said in a prepared statement.
If lawmakers were to adopt such a provision, it could trigger legal challenges to any law allowing wine in grocery stores. In Kentucky, grocery stores and gas stations have sued over a law that bars them from stocking liquor but allows it in drug stores.
That law was upheld last week by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, which also has jurisdiction over Tennessee.