by Max Brantley
Liquor by the drink, Sunday sales and conventional restaurant booze permits are in the offing via various regulatory channels. The most interesting question is who'll be first in line for the first package store permits.
The Macadoodles outfit, which successfully broke the Washington County liquor cartel and which is well-known after years as the first-stop choice for many an Arkie just over the Missouri line, would be a contender, I'd guess. Having visited their huge new store on I-540 in Springdale, I'm ready to say you can do a LOT worse in Arkansas, on both price and selection.
Under existing Arkansas law, Walmart can't open a liquor store, even separate from an existing Walmart or Sam's Club. The groundbreaking case that gave them an outlet in Fayetteville limited the company to one store. But .... maybe the Walton charter school lobbyists, with ducks already in a row on that fight in the rent-to-own Republican legislature, could find a little spare time to loosen up archaic liquor laws, too. Then maybe we could get a Costco in Arkansas.
After a successful petition drive that began in February, Benton County residents voted to legalize alcohol sales in the County in a historic vote on Nov. 6.
The ballot initiative to change Benton County from a "dry" county to a "wet" county passed by a 2-to-1 margin with 50,456 residents (65.6 percent of the voting population) voting in favor of the initiative. The last time voters had the opportunity to have their say on alcohol sales in Benton County was 1944 when the population of the County was approximately 38,000. Much has changed since then with today’s population at 220,000 and growing, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
"We are very pleased with Tuesday’s outcome," said Marshall Ney, an attorney with the Mitchell Williams Law Firm in Rogers and spokesman for Keep Dollars in Benton County, the entity formed to support the initiative. "First and foremost, the most exciting thing is that the voters of Benton County had an opportunity to vote on this issue something that hasn’t been done in more than 65 years. We had a dedicated committee and many volunteers who helped us get this passed. We owe them a huge thanks for all that they have done over the past year.
"We respect that there are differing points of view on this issue, but as we’ve said all along, Benton County is already the wettest dry county in the state. Up until now Benton County has received none of the tax and economic benefits of officially being wet. Our county and cities certainly need the tax revenue and potential new jobs and businesses this brings. It’s a major economic win for Benton County."
Brothers Steuart and Tom Walton, along with other individuals and local businesses, were behind the cause from the beginning, providing initial funding for the petition drive phase and the get-out-the-vote effort.
"My brother Tom and I are very pleased with the election result on the wet-dry initiative, and the fact that Benton County voters had an opportunity to be heard on this issue," said Steuart Walton. "We do feel strongly that this outcome represents a significant economic opportunity for Benton County and our individual cities, so we are likewise pleased that all the tax revenues and potential new jobs involved here will now be staying in the County."
Keep Dollars in Benton County will dissolve in the coming weeks now that its primary objectives are accomplished, Ney said. The Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission and elected officials in Benton County and its cities will oversee the next steps for each community. The county and cities can begin considering other potential actions including approving liquor-by-the-drink sales and on-premise consumption permits, and Sunday sales of alcohol. These all would require further action by the county and individual cities with very specific laws and regulations involved in the process.
Although the vote tally is in favor of legalizing alcohol sales in Benton County, it doesn’t become official until the County certifies the votes by Nov. 16.