Clark, Boone Counties Gear Up for Liquor Sales

by Gwen Moritz  on Monday, Nov. 22, 2010 12:00 am  

For a guy who "got chewed out both ways" because he remained neutral on the question of whether his county should vote itself "wet," Clark County Judge Ron Daniell seems to have given quite a lot of thought to the most promising location for a liquor store: Exit 78 on Interstate 30 at Caddo Valley.

"If I was going to put one, that's what I'd be looking at," Daniell said last week. "You'd get your Oaklawn traffic going there. You'd get your Lake DeGray traffic in the summertime. Stop and get tuned up."

It would be, he said, the only liquor store in the 110-mile stretch of I-30 between the Pulaski County line at Alexander and the outskirts of Texarkana in Miller County.

Proponents of a wet Clark County campaigned on the idea that a dearth of alcohol was working against the ½-percent countywide sales tax voters adopted for economic development efforts in 2007, Daniell said.

Mark Hughes has also given a lot of thought to the future liquor-buying habits of residents of Clark County, especially those in Arkadelphia, where some people think Hughes' family business is literally called First Chance Liquor.

It's really Ship 'n Shore Liquor Mart on Highway 7, just inside Garland County. (See sidebar here.) For 25 years, Ship 'n Shore has been the closest package store to Arkadelphia and to parts of dry Hot Spring County, with as much as 65 percent of its business coming from across the county line, Hughes said.

The liquor business is already more competitive and less profitable than most people think, Hughes complained last week. "This right here," the vote to make Clark County wet, "will probably be what puts the fork in me," he said.

Residents of both Clark County in southwest Arkansas and Boone County on the Missouri line voted Nov. 2 to permit the regulated sale of alcoholic beverages to the public, bringing the number of wet counties in the state to 35. Most of the dry counties - 40 after the loss of Clark and Boone - have liquor available by the glass at permitted private clubs, but the recent votes mean the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Board will be able to issue permits in those two counties for all kinds of alcohol sales allowed by state law.

Both countywide elections were decisive but not blow-outs: 56 percent of Clark County voters favored alcohol sales, while 53 percent voted yes in Boone County, where a private citizen has contested the results.

Considerable support for going wet was a foregone conclusion: Since 1995, Arkansas law has required at least 38 percent of registered voters in a county to sign a petition before the question of switching from dry to wet or wet to dry can even be placed on the ballot. All three counties in which that hurdle has been overcome have gone on to vote themselves wet.

Assuming the decision of the majority of voters is final, permits to sell beer and small-farm wines for consumption off-premises could be granted as early as January to grocery stores, convenience stores and other existing establishments that file applications pronto and don't draw opposition from local officials, according to Milton R. Lueken, an attorney with the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Division. There is no limit on the number of off-premises beer and wine permits that can be issued in a wet county.

But it will be several months before permits allowing the sale of hard liquor, what the law calls "spirituous" beverages, will be issued in either county, ABC General Counsel Don Bennett said. And it will be even longer and require at least one more election before restaurants that aren't private clubs can apply for permits to sell alcohol by the glass. Those local-option by-the-glass elections can be initiated countywide by the quorum court, or local city councils in wet counties can call for a vote.

Marion County, immediately east of Boone County on the Missouri border, voted itself wet in November 2006. Its first liquor store permit was granted to Rich's Package Store in Bull Shoals on July 1, 2007, and opened later that month.



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