Will grocery stores in Smithville soon be allowed to sell wine?
That’s a question voters may be asked in November.
DeKalb County Administrator of Elections, Dennis Stanley, said someone has already inquired about a petition drive to place the question on the November 8 election ballot.
“I was recently contacted by a spokesman of an organization that wants to begin a petition drive in Smithville in the very near future,” Stanley said. “That petition would ask the election commission to hold a local option election to authorize the sale of wine at retail food stores.”
"A wine at retail food stores referendum may only be called by petition of registered voters in jurisdictions which have held and passed either a referendum to authorize retail package stores or a referendum to authorize the sale of alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises.
“Two years ago Smithville voters approved retail package stores, thus making the city eligible for wine at retail food stores,” Stanley said. “To call a wine at retail food stores referendum, a petition must be signed by 10% or more of the registered voters casting a ballot for governor in the last city election.”
In addition, the petition must be filed with the election commission no later than 75 days before the upcoming November election.
“The person I spoke to recently was well aware of the rules and regulations regarding petitions for referendums and was just informing me someone would be in town soon to begin the petition drive and have it to our office before the deadline,” Stanley said.
If the effort is successful, that will be the second liquor referendum on the ballot in November. A petition to call for an election to authorize alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises has already been turned in and Stanley said there were enough names to put the issue on the ballot.
Both referendums apply only to the City of Smithville. He also noted that no liquor referendum may be placed on the same ballot or conducted on the same day of a primary election.
“The city will conduct its normal election on August 4, but that election falls on the same day as the Tennessee State Primary,” Stanley said. “As a result, the liquor referendums must be held in November.
“Retail food store” is defined in the law as a business that derives at least 20 percent of its sales from the retail sale of food and food ingredients and has floor space of at least 1,200 square feet. The law requires that food sales be those types of sales taxed at the lower, 5 percent state rate, rather than the higher sales tax rate applied to sales of prepared food. It appears that this definition will prevent most convenience stores and gas stations from obtaining licenses to sell wine.
If voters approve the sale of wine in grocery stores, the Alcoholic Beverage Commission will be the body to issue “retail food store wine licenses”
Applicants must submit a certificate from the city, signed by the mayor, stating that the applicant has not been convicted of a felony in the past ten years and that the applicant has a location for their business inside city limits. If a city fails to issue a certificate to an applicant within 60 days after receiving a written application, the commission will waive the certificate requirement.
Store ownership is not required in order to receive a license, as store owners may enter into franchise or management agreements with licensees. Cities may not limit the number of retail food store wine licenses to be issued in their jurisdiction nor require that applicants reside in the city.
Grocery stores located within 500 feet of package stores may not obtain licenses to sell wine until July 1, 2017, unless the package store owner provides written permission to the commission. Any package store owner who refuses such permission cannot sell those additional items permitted by the law until such time as the grocery store obtains permission to sell wine.