A Rocky Failure For Rocky Top’s Arcane State Liquor Laws
My first reaction when I learned that Tennessee – my home state – had failed by one vote a provision that could have allowed wine to be sold in grocery stores was “why are they still living in the 1800s!?”
Then I saw that the one vote that was expected to have put it over the top came from a representative from Jonesborough.
Well, that made sense. Jonesborough, a dot off the highway just south of Johnson City, is a historic town that’s pretty much like walking into the 1800s. It claims to be the state’s oldest city, having been created 17 years before Tennessee was even granted statehood. For a quick tour of Jonesborough, click here.
There are, however, some long-time residents who claim that Rogersville, just to the south of Jonesborough, is Tennessee’s oldest city.
But back to the booze.
A House group called Local Government Committee rejected the bill by an 8-7 vote. Chairman Matthew Hills, R-Jonesborough, cast a surprise vote against the bill, which would have allowed local voters to decide through referendums whether grocery stores could sell wine. Hills seemed to support the bill in the past and it’s a bit ironic that the bill’s sponsor is from nearby Bristol. Usually, Tennesseans are quite neighborly folks.
The fact that you can’t buy wine or hard liquor in grocery stores is a backward mentality that does nothing to help the national perception of Tennessee as anything but a Rocky Top hick state. Heck, people get their corn from a jar in Tennessee, right!?
Locals in Knoxville, particularly those who have moved from other states, were upset when Trader Joe’s opened up a location in town, only to learn the popular affordable gourmet store could not stock its famous “Two Buck Chuck” wines. So many drive four hours to Atlanta and bring it back by the caseload. Trader Joe’s, by the way, is cleverly sidestepping the law by opening up a wine store next to its grocery store.
As things stand now in Tennessee’s archaic alcohol mental culture, you have to go to a specific wine or liquor store to buy wines and spirits. And they can’t even sell any accessories like corkscrews or mixers.
The thinking goes that people can’t buy a bottle of Merlot and open it up in the car, or a bottle of Jack and mix it with a Coke and drive away with a drink. Of course, this is absolutely nuts because you can have a corkscrew in the car or go across the street to get a soda from convenience store.
And what miniscule percentage of the population is so desperate for a drink that they need to take a swig the minute they buy a bottle (and if they are, would they not simply rip open the top and take a shot?). If that’s the fear, then the state should be spending its time on removing those people from society and not punishing those who simply want to grab a bottle of Chardonnay along with their groceries.
You can buy beer and malt beverages (like Smirnoff Ice) in a grocery store But not on Sundays during church hours and liquor and wine stores are not open at all that day.
It’s not that they don’t drink in Tennessee. Strangers who climb ‘ol Neyland Stadium on fall Saturdays for a UT game are offered a drink before they figure out how they can possibly squeeze into the narrow space that is their seat.
Naturally, the wine and liquor stores opposed the bill because they would have to compete against grocery stores.
It’s possible a vote could come up again in the future, but for now Rocky Top remains on rocky ground when it comes to liquor laws.