story by Kim Souza
More than 134 requests for liquor store applications have been received by the Alcoholic Beverage Control division and the window for acceptance will remain open about two more months.
Rick Crisman, deputy director of education for the ABC, told a crowd of about 100 people Thursday night (Dec. 6) only 55 permits for liquor stores would be awarded throughout the entire county.
Crisman spoke at town hall meeting in Bella Vista answering questions from business owners and residents about the protocol for selling liquor, beer and wine, now that the county is “wet.”
Voters in Benton County decided to join 35 other Arkansas counties where package alcohol is sold, according to the unofficial final counted votes by the Benton County Election Commission early Wednesday morning (Nov. 7)
Wet supporters tallied 42,978 votes (66%), while the opposition favoring the status quo had 22,239 (34%) of the votes cast.
Crisman said the law is clear and based on the population in Benton County at the last census, 55 permits for liquor stores will be awarded – that is one per 4,000 residents. Those stores can’t be located within 1,000 feet of a church or school and the owner must live within 35 miles of the store.
“Wal-Mart and Macadoodles will not get another a permit for a liquor store, because they each already have one in the state, which is the limit under the law today, the Sam’s Club in Fayetteville and Macadoodles in Springdale. In the case of multiple stores owned such as in Springdale or Fayetteville, those owners were allowed to keep their stores when the law changed – they were grandfathered in so to speak. That is not possible today,” Crisman said.
However, Macadoodles and Wal-Mart can apply for off-premise beer and wine permits because there are no limits to how many of those a single person can have.
The 55 liquor store permits will be awarded via a lottery system sometime in late spring. He said a person may submit multiple applications to increase their chances of being picked, but the cost is high. The permit application fee is $2,000, of which only $1,000 is returned if the applicant isn’t selected.
He said there is nothing in the lottery system to keep Rogers or Bentonville or Pea Ridge from getting more permits awarded than other cities. Rogers might get 15 or 5, it’s just the luck of the draw.
He expects to see the first liquor stores pop in Benton County by early summer 2013. Retail packaged beer and wine will be sold as soon as mid-January as store owners have already started requesting those off-premise permits.
In the week ending Nov. 30, the ABC reported 28 permit applications received for off-premise beer and wine sales in Benton County from three major convenience store chains.
EZ-Mart owners have requested 15 permits, Kum & Go filed 8 applications and Casey’s General Stores submitted paperwork for 5 permits.
Crisman said agents are working those applications now, visiting the sites to make sure they meet all the requirements for the permit.
He said private club permits held by most restaurants in Benton County, can also apply for the beer and wine permit, which allows them to buy that product wholesale from a distributor. The county is not approved for liquor-by-the-drink, which means restaurants still need their private club status to sell mixed drinks, Crisman added.
“That could be changing in this legislative session. There is a bill in the works that would automatically grant a county liquor-by-the-drink status once it goes ‘wet.’ If that passes, it would be retroactive to this last election.” Crisman said.
Cities will be able to require permits for these liquor stores and Crisman said those fees can be either be flat or include a percentage of total sales. He said liquor stores can stay open until 2 a.m., but a city ordinance can reduce those hours.
Lastly, he said township’s can vote to remain dry but the next opportunity for that is two years away. It would require the same protocol to get a “dry” vote on the ballot as the recent “wet” vote. That is a petition with 30% of the registered voter base to get it on the ballot, then a majority vote on election day.
“In Washington County, there are several townships that are dry such as Farmington, Prairie Grove and Lincoln,” he said.