Hundreds of Tennessee grocery stores approved for wine sales

More than half of the Tennessee grocery stores that have applied to sell wine under a new state liquor law have received a license to do so, the Alcoholic Beverage Commission announced.

Among the retailers that have received retail food store licenses to sell wine in Tennessee starting July 1 are 72 Kroger stores, 104 Wal-Mart stores and 16 Sam’s Clubs. The ABC is preparing a list of all the stores in the state that will sell wine, said Clay Byrd, executive director of the ABC.

As of last week, the ABC had received 499 applications, sent 398 conditional letters of approval and delivered 279 retail food store licenses. Byrd said those numbers are changing daily and the commission could issue 30-40 more licenses by the end of the day Monday.

The conditional letters of approval allow the retailers to accept delivery and stock wine, but they need the retail food store license to begin selling wine at 8 am, July 1, when the new state law takes effect. Grocery stores that have applied for but not received a conditional letter of approval are either missing documentation or submitted an application closer to the upcoming rollout, according to a news release.

The ABC expects to deliver additional licenses to the remaining qualified stores over the next two weeks.

Byrd said new applications from retailers are still coming in daily, but he doesn’t expect a flood of new applicants.

Some worried sales of wine in grocery stores could be delayed after the unexpected departure in March of the commission’s former executive director, Keith Bell. Byrd was appointed on May 24 to serve as the new executive director.

Lawmakers approved the wine-in-grocery stores legislation in 2014 after seven years of debate.

The ABC started accepting applications from retailers in January, resulting in an onslaught of paperwork that left the industry scrambling to prepare over the past six months.

Many grocers in the Nashville area started rearranging a portion of their stores earlier this year to make shelf space for wine.

The Whole Foods store in Green Hills was rearranged last week to create a wine department. On Sunday hundreds of bags of popcorn sat on shelves as placeholders under a sign that read “Great grapes! Wine coming soon.” Trader Joe’s spokeswoman Alison Mochizuici said the store in Green Hills would be ready to sell wine by July 1. Publix spokeswoman said all 39 stores in the state have received conditional letters of approval and she anticipates the official licenses will be issued before July 1.

Kroger became one of the first grocers in the state to stock its shelves with wine in May (putting thousands of bottles on display across a range of price points) although customers still can’t purchase it until July 1.

“We are so pleased that we have completed all the necessary requirements of the application process, and will have all 72 of our eligible stores licensed and ready to sell wine on July 1,” said Melissa Eads, Kroger Nashville division spokeswoman, in a statement. “We are thankful to the ABC and the Tennessee Legislature for their leadership in bringing wine to retail food stores in Tennessee. Wine has been one of the most requested items in our stores for years, so we know our customers are looking forward to this as well.”