Voters approve referendum on selling wine in grocery stores

Published 9:59 am Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Retail food stores within the city limits of Elizabethton will now be able to sell wine following approval of a local referendum by voters.
Voters approved the referendum by a margin of 61.66 percent to 38.34 percent. A total of 1,785 city residents voted for the measure while 1,110 opposed it.
Elizabethton was one of 80 city or county governments across the state to feature a local referendum allowing the sale of wine at grocery stores, big-box retailers and convenience stores.
But retailers will not be able to start selling wine until July 1, 2016, a time frame set to allow a transition period giving liquor stores time to adjust to the shift in Tennessee’s liquor laws.
In March, Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law a bill authorizing local option referendums to permit the sale of wine in retail food stores. Under the law, only those municipalities that had already approved allowing retail package stores or liquor-by-the drink establishments or both could pursue the local option to allow wine in grocery stores.
Stores seeking to sell wine would first have to apply for the appropriate permit through the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
Under the terms of the law signed by Haslam, the commission “will not issue any retail food store wine licenses prior to July 1, 2016, although the commission may begin processing applications prior to that date. Prior to July 1, 2017, no retail food store wine license will be issued to any applicant for a location that is within 500 feet of an existing retail package store licensee, unless the licensee consents to the issuance of the license.”
To get the referendum on the ballot, petitions had to be submitted bearing 355 signatures from registered voters living in the city limits — a number of voters equal or greater than 10 percent of the registered voters casting a ballot in the last election for governor in the city. A drive to get the referendum on the ballot began turning in petitions to the Carter County Election Office in June but it was not until August 15 that enough verified signatures were obtained. Many of the early signatures weren’t countable because the person who signed was either not registered to vote or didn’t live within the city limits, according to Administrator of Elections Tracy Harris.

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