Dear Readers for March 19, 2009

This week’s cover story is one of Blount Today’s analysis pieces. We don’t do them often enough -- not because there aren’t enough issues, but because we are victims of the ever-present time crunch.

But when an argument is brewing, Blount Today’s editor Lance Coleman is usually eager to jump in. Such was the case with the bill introduced in early February in the Tennessee Senate and House of Representatives that would allow grocery stores and convenience stores to sell wine.

In issue and analysis pieces, the editor’s job is to ask the right questions of the right people, then get out of the way. You won’t be able to tell from the story on wine in grocery stores which way Lance is leaning or if he’s already tipped all the way over on one side or another. That’s what reporters and editors do. They present the facts and documented opinions of others and let you make up your own mind. Their opinions should never figure into the equation.

In an opinion piece, which Dear Readers certainly is, editors, reporters and even publishers are allowed to have and express their opinion. I rarely write news or issue pieces for Blount Today. I can take all the positions I want and stand on as many soap boxes as I choose. My opinion is simply that: My opinion. Most of the time I am content to let political dogs lie.

Not this time. Several weeks ago, the News Sentinel took a stand on wine in grocery stores, coming out editorially in favor of it. An assumption was made by some that Blount Today was of like mind. The assumption was incorrect.

There could be many reasons for my opposition to the Tennessee Legislature changing the law that prohibits alcohol sales in grocery and convenience stores. On a purely Blount Today business level, I have a great fondness for most of the folks who own the liquor stores in Blount County. They have been good to Blount Today, in their advertising, their acceptance of us as a legitimate, quality community newspaper and in their support of charity and community events.

Then again, Blount County could not possibly have a stronger, more vigorous community supporter than the local Wal-Mart stores, and I have a great fondness for them and their acceptance and support as well.

There is also the argument that making wine more accessible will increase under-age drinking. As a mom, of course I am concerned about teenagers and their already escalating drinking habits. Do I think liquor stores are better able to police the sell of alcohol to teens than grocery or convenience stores? Absolutely. But if I’m really going to take my stand on that point, I better grab another soapbox and start working to get beer sales out of the grocery stores, because I believe most teens looking for a drink prefer Michelob over merlot.

My opposition to the sell of wine in grocery and convenience stores comes down to one point: Jobs. I believe the numbers the Tennessee Wine and Retailers Association are estimating -- between 2,000 and 3,000 jobs lost.

If a large manufacturing plant employing 2,000 of our fellow Tennesseans announced they were closing and their employees joining the growing rank of the unemployed, there would be great gnashing of teeth and offers of help from Nashville. The representative whose county and district would be affected would be doing considerable hand-wringing.

So what’s the difference? Surely no one thinks the grocers and convenience store owners are going to “staff up” by 2,000 employees to handle wine sales in the stores. The Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission might have to add employees to keep up with compliance, but the jobs won’t be tit for tat.

Locally, the numbers won’t be that staggering, but the impact will be. In addition to just cutting back on employees as sales suffer, some of the wine and spirits store owners are worried about staying in business period. The business has grown in Blount County over the past five years and many of those stores are still working to see a return on their investment.

If the economy, changing habits, poor service, bad location, increase in merchandise cost or any of those hundreds of factors that can cause a business to fail brings down one or more of our local liquor stores, well, such is life in the business world.

They just shouldn’t have to worry about the state government doing it to them.

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