Spirited Debate 

Among the controversial issues to be taken up in the forthcoming session of the Tennessee General Assembly that begins in January is the perennial one of wine sales in grocery stores. A vigorous attempt on behalf of permitting such sales was beaten back in the previous legislative session by supporters of liquor stores.

We started to say "of the liquor lobby," which is known to be both well-organized and well-heeled, but in all fairness we'd have had to say "grocery-store lobby," too. And the fact is, both kinds of enterprises have legitimate talking points, both commercially and philosophically. So to be perfectly evenhanded and fair-minded, we'll desist from loaded terms.

Speaking of fair-minded, that adjective adequately describes a debate on the issue held Tuesday before members of the Memphis Rotary Club. The debaters were Art Seessel of the well-known, long-lamented Seessel's grocery stores that flourished here for some decades and Gary Burhop of Great Wines and Liquors.

Among the talking points on the pro side, represented by Seessel, were those of customer convenience and, these days, of economic advantage — one which, Seessel argued, would not necessarily work to the disadvantage of established liquor retailers. Burhop was not so sanguine about the economic fallout and prophesied the loss of local jobs. He also, somewhat delicately, related the prospect of greater availability of legal spirits to the prospect of neighborhood corruption in certain areas of Memphis.

Both men made an abundance of other arguments, of course, and out of it all came a plethora of unexpected information. It is probably not generally known, for example, that at least six major liquor distributors flourish in Tennessee, while Texas, both geographically and population-wise a larger state, has only two.

We would hazard a guess that neither the reasoning nor the gentility that Rotarians were treated to will be as evident when the nitty-gritty types of the General Assembly have their own debate. The word "realpolitik" better describes what will happen there. Suffice it to say that there are two sides to the question, and we hope that both get a fair trial.

Seessel, by the way, expressed gratitude when an attendee expressed an opinion to him afterward that the remorse expressed by Schnucks shoppers over the recent merger of that chain's stores with those of the Kroger company is, in fact, deferred longing for the old Seessel's stores. It was at those stores (which became Albertson's and then Schnucks) where, indeed, some of the habit of social mingling became such a well-established feature of the local landscape.

For what it's worth, Seessel has been impressed so far with the mode of the changeover and is optimistic that Kroger's people will function as good merchandisers and good citizens with their new advantage. In any case, he imagines that "some smaller Walmarts" and other competitors will fill some of the gap left by Schnucks.

Okay, we feel better already, and we're prepared to propose a toast to the rosy future he prophesies. For that, though, we need a bottle of bubbly. Hmmm. Anybody know the nearest place to get one?

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