Wine retailing giant Total Wine & More is eyeing Tennessee for expansion. The Maryland-based retailer has 229 stores in 27 states, including Tennessee locations in Brentwood and Knoxville, and hopes to open new stores in the Volunteer State.
“It’s no secret that there are customers who enjoy fine wine and beer and spirits in the major metropolitan areas throughout Tennessee,” said Edward Cooper, vice president of public affairs for Total Wine & More. “We would like the opportunity, at least, to be able to serve them.”
Total Wine & More, founded in 1991 by brothers David and Robert Trone, stocks expansive bottle offerings in large storefronts. Each store stocks thousands of wines, beers and distilled spirits with prices ranging from $4 to $8,000 and typically has a staff between 55 and 75 employees. Stores regularly occupy 20,000 to 35,000 square feet. The Brentwood store, for example, is located in a former Office Depot. The company’s first Tennessee store was in Knoxville.
Cooper said the larger storefronts offer a separate shopping experience from smaller independent stores. The average customer shops at their store three to six times a year, he said.
“It’s a larger shop. It’s a bigger basket,” Cooper said. “(Customers) are usually stocking up or preparing for some sort of event.”
The stores also host events for wine aficionados, from tastings to wine and beer classes with brewers and distillers. When the in-store “wine education center” classrooms aren’t in use, they’re available to rent for free for use by community organizations.
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“It’s not just good business. It’s just good community relations work,” Cooper said. “We want to be actively involved in the communities which we serve.”
Current Tennessee law restricts any owner from holding more than two “retail package store licenses” to sell liquor. That means a company like Total Wine & More can’t open a third location without a change in legislation.
“We don’t believe that’s right. Tennessee has always seemed to us to be a free-market state,” Cooper said. “Why limit the number of licenses that any one individual or entity may have?”
In 2021, state Rep. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, introduced SB 413. As amended, the bill would raise the cap on retail package store licenses from two licenses to three. The bill was deferred to the 2022 legislative session and is awaiting further consideration.
This wouldn’t be the first time the company has pushed for legislative change in Tennessee. In 2018, the company was a named party in a U.S. Supreme Court case regarding residency requirements for liquor licenses. The Court struck down a state law that required liquor license applicants to live in the state for two years before being granted a license, with Justice Samuel Alito writing in the majority opinion that the law “blatantly favor(ed) the State’s residents.”
Cooper said cities like Memphis or Nashville could be candidates for new Total Wine & More stores if state law allowed expansion.
“The bottom line is, you can’t just drop a Total Wine & More on every street corner,” Cooper said. “We are in many ways limited as to where we can go, and that’s fine. Nobody sets out to build a whole bunch of stores that are going to cannibalize each other.
Cole Villena covers Williamson County at The Tennessean, part of the USA Today Network — Tennessee. Reach Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-925-0493. Follow Cole on Twitter at @ColeVillena and on Instagram at @CVinTennessee.