story by Tabatha Gardner, special to The City Wire
BENTONVILLE — The issue of whether to allow retail alcohol sales in Benton County represents a line drawn in the sand for some Benton County residents.
Angela Baer of Siloam Springs has read all about the statistics supporting a wet county, one that allows alcohol sales. She's heard about the February study performed by officials and statisticians at The University of Arkansas that estimates the annual impact of retail alcohol sales in Benton County at $33 million.
The thing she is worried about, however, is the number one. That's because she knows at least one job, her own, will be lost if voters choose a wet county.
Baer works at County Line Liquor in West Siloam Springs, just across the state line in Oklahoma. She said nearly all of her customers cross into Oklahoma from Siloam Springs to purchase their alcohol.
Without the business from Siloam Springs, County Line Liquor and other similar stores just across the state line will likely shutter their doors, Baer said.
"There is zero population in this town and if it wasn't for the casino here, there would be nothing," Baer said. "I'd be out of a job (should Benton County become wet). I'm 55 and unskilled so it'll hurt."
Baer said she believes allowing retail alcohol sales in Benton County will likely do more harm than good.
"I don't know how much it will help or hurt but it's probably going to hurt more people than it helps," Baer said.
Baer is one of many Benton County residents who are unlikely to sign a petition being circulated around the county.
The group Keep Dollars in Benton County began circulating the petition in mid-February with the goal of obtaining enough signatures to have the wet/dry issue placed on the ballot in November. Once on the ballot, voters will decide if Benton County is wet or dry.
The group, Keep Dollars in Benton County, has until Aug. 8 to gather nearly 40,000 signatures in support of having the wet/dry issue placed on the ballot in November, Tena O'Brien, Benton County Clerk said.
CHILDREN AND SAFETY
Pastor Galen Tearcy of Radiant Life Church in Bentonville will not affix his signature to the petition to allow retail alcohol sales in Benton County.
"I'm absolutely opposed," Tearcy said. "The last thing we need is more alcohol. It affects our children and our safety."
Tearcy said he does not want the tax revenue associated with allowing retail alcohol sales in Benton County.
"Any time you make (alcohol) more available, there is going to be a problem," Tearcy said. "We're going to see more tax money but we're also going to see very adverse effects."
Bob Metcalf often deals with the adverse effects of alcohol in his position as the associate pastor of Education and Family Life for the Centerton First Baptist Church.
"This isn't something that is going to be beneficial in my opinion," Metcalf said, noting he counsels and advises parents and children dealing with consequences related to alcohol abuse.
Metcalf said he believes increased tax revenues is a shallow argument for allowing Benton County to become wet.
"I don't think it will improve the quality of living in our area to have increased liquor sales," Metcalf said.
Larry Williams does not support the move to convert Benton County from dry to wet for different reasons. Williams owns the liquor store, Macadoodles, in Springdale.
"I'd prefer it to stay the way it is. There is a lot of infrastructure that has been put in place because the county has been dry since 1935 and there has to be some benefit for it to have lasted that long," Williams said, "There is a reason restaurants sell alcohol by the glass in Benton County and they're successful because of that."
The infrastructure Williams is referring to is the ability for restaurants to become private clubs, enabling them to get around the county's retail alcohol sales and sell alcohol by the glass.
Williams said that as a Benton County resident, he understands why people would want to vote on whether the county remains dry.
"I'm in the (alcohol) business and I do get a lot of customers from Bentonville and Rogers and whatever the customers want to do, it's their town," Williams said, noting he will simply have to work harder to keep customers from Benton County shopping in his store.
"There are a lot of people who shop at the store because of the way we run our business. We have the best selection and the best price so I think we will keep a lot of our customers but we will have to change the business to keep our customers," Williams said.
David Bentley, the head pastor of the Rogers First United Methodist Church said he has dealt with the issue of a wet or dry county before when he worked in east Arkansas.
Bentley said his experience was that there are usually two groups who oppose such initiatives, churches in the community and liquor stores in surrounding counties.
Based on his past experience, Bentley said, allowing retail alcohol sales in a dry county is not a clear cut issue for anyone involved.