by HANK COWLES
More than one million jobs have vanished in America in the last sixty days, and the end is nowhere in sight. Closer to home, changing our state's current alcohol-sales laws to allow wine sales in grocery stores or other big retailers will not generate a single new job, but would likely throw several thousand of our fellow Tennesseans out of work.
The Tennessee Wine and Retailers Association estimates that between 2000 and 3000 jobs might be lost, while members of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission estimate they would need to hire over 2000 compliance officers to oversee this expanded availability of wine!
Wine in these stores would be just another item feeding their bottom line without generating more sales tax, while the loss of 2000 jobs would have a serious multiplier effect on the state economy. Most of these people would end up on the states' unemployment rolls, further deflating Tennessee's' ability to help its citizens. (The Tennessee Unemployment Department recently notified most Tennessee employers that the unemployment tax they pay will be increased due to the high number of claims filed by Tennesseans who have already lost their jobs).
The proposed legislation makes no changes in restrictions for existing liquor stores-- which, as before, would have to be located 1500 yards away from any schools, churches, parks, playgrounds or residential properties. Liquor stores in Tennessee are not allowed to have investors or shareholders who are not residents of the state, nor are individual owners allowed to operate in more than one location. Wal-Mart, Kroger's, and the other big box chains would not be compelled to comply with such restrictions.
The legislators who support this change should instead be trying to protect these existing Tennessee-owned businesses and their employees. All of these stores are owned by people who invested in a strictly regulated businesses, created incomes, jobs, and taxes....and did it by the sweat of their brow. They are bound by leases, mortgages, commercial operating loans, employment contracts, and more. For many, the slightest loss of volume will put them out of business.
Our elected officials should not be serving the interests of big-box retailers at the expense of Tennessee jobs . (Coincidental point: Wal-Mart laid off 5000 employees in January). Retail liquor stores are steady businesses - with steady sales, steady growth, and steady employment. Such steadiness ensures jobs and the likelihood of few, if any, layoffs. Moreover, purchasing wine inventories often requires special knowledge and special attention to customer's wants and needs, all of which are offered in these stores.
I agree that there is a convenience factor here. I have been to other states where wine is sold in grocery stores, and it is nice to pick up a bottle while shopping for other things. But the primary problem now is the economy. The state of Tennessee wants to end these jobs and hand this profitable business over to big-box retailers, while offering existing wine stores nothing in return. (Oh, wait, I forgot: The bill would offer corkscrews, ice, soft drinks, and mixers, all loss-leaders at best).
Think about it. If you owned your own business and the state came along and ordered you to give up 50 percent of your sales volume, while not allowing you to sell anything else to make up for it, you would be upset, too. Why end 2000 or more private-sector jobs, then turn around and create 2000 or more tax-payer paid jobs, just to satisfy the desire of these major chain store operations?
Finally, if there was a plant in Tennessee that was going to close and lose 2000 jobs, the legislators would be bending over backwards to save them. There is no difference here. We are saying "jobs," but it is really people we're talking about - families and neighbors. The economy is already killing jobs by the millions. We don't need our state government to legislate the death of so many more.
(Hank Cowles is the owner of The New Corkscrew Wines in Memphis)
See also "Quit W(h)ining," by Steve Steffens.