One of the unexpected developments from the novel coronavirus lockdown was Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order allowing establishments to sell alcohol for takeout or delivery — with the purchase of food — in closed containers to customers of legal drinking age.
Lee’s order made sense, and it lent food for thought about Johnson City’s restrictions on alcohol sales.
As Staff Writer David Floyd reported in Thursday’s edition, Lee’s order expired May 31, but Johnson City leaders are exploring the feasibility of allowing beer delivery on an ongoing basis at the request of some local businesses.
Restaurants, which must derive at least 50% of their delivery sales from food, and liquor stores already can deliver alcohol under state law, but local ordinances cover places that manufacture and sell alcohol only.. Tennessee does not regulate the sale of beer below 8% alcohol content, which makes regulations of those products a local decision. Johnson City’s current code does not allow delivery from places that manufacture and sell beer but not food. Breweries and taprooms already are allowed to sell takeout beer in growlers — closed containers.
A change in Johnson City’s code is logical from both economic and safety points of view. We agree with City Commissioner Larry Calhoun that it would level the playing field for such businesses by removing unfair competitive advantages. We also agree with City Manager Pete Peterson that delivery could reduce the number of intoxicated drivers. People who consume at home would be less likely to drink and drive.
Johnson City also is behind the curve when it comes to distilleries. Craft breweries are plentiful and still growing here, but city code does not yet allow for the manufacture of distilled spirits. The City Commission has been asked to review its codes and investigate where such establishments would be permitted in the city’s zoning code.
Tennessee has made a lot of progress in recent years by removing restrictions on alcohol sales, including a law that gave liquor stores a monopoly on wine sales, puritanical blue laws that prevented sales on Sundays and limits on where liquor could be distilled.
The latter allowed distilleries in just three counties; Moore, Coffee and Lincoln counties where Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, George Dickel Whisky and Prichards’ Rum operate. That changed 11 years ago with an amended law allowing localities meeting certain requirements to have distilleries — 44 counties became eligible.
Even neighboring Jonesborough, which was slow to embrace restaurant beer and liquor consumption, and other nearby municipalities leapt over the distillery hurdle some years ago. Johnson City has been missing out on a lucrative business opportunity. That, too, should change.