LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- The unusually warm weather might have led you outside to do some yard work today. Those leaves aren't going to rake themselves, after all.
After a few hours of clean-up, you might have wanted a cold adult beverage. But, unless you stocked up, you were probably out of luck, because most of us can't buy alcohol on Sunday in Arkansas.
Unless you live in a few select places like Altus in Franklin County. The city has a picturesque church on a hill and two liquor stores along US 64. All three are famously open on a Sunday.
“Altus is the place that everybody goes to have a drink or go to the liquor store and it's the culture of this town,” said Linda Post, owner of Big T’s Liquors. “There's not much here and so we depend on this. There's not any much industry or business here. There's not even any place to shop.”
Nestled in the Ozark foothills, Altus is famous for its wineries. It's no wonder the city took advantage of a now-7-year-old law that quietly allowed the people here to conduct “off premises” sales on the traditional Day of Rest. Act 294 passed with little fanfare in 2009. Tucked inside the bill written by the Alcohol Beverage Control board was a provision that let's any city or county start a petition drive and hold an election to allow Sunday sales.
“Really the majority [of cities that held Act 294 votes] are fairly small communities. Many in the northwest and north-central part of the state,” said Scott Hardin, the spokesperson for the state department of Finance and Administration. They oversee the ABC Commission. “The largest city is Springdale and obviously another being Eureka Springs.”
When Act 294 went on the books, border cities signed up first. Quirky Eureka Springs seems a natural fit. But the Sunday drive has stalled in recent years.
“I'm not sure that it's full steam ahead for more counties going wet,” said Post, whose family has been in the booze business for decades and has weathered the ups and downs like Prohibition and Bible Belt sensibilities.
For her, Sunday sales are a break-even proposition. Down the street at Tinker’s Liquor Store, the clerks who work the Sunday shift say sales that day are often watered down.
“It's just about like every other day,” said Elizabeth Ledding, as she helped a customer find a locally brewed beer. “I mean it's not as busy or about the same as Friday or Saturday or Monday.”
You can feel for the ones who have to work the weekend, but locals do see some advantages.
“I don't think there's as many people that are driving drunk,” said Herb Halloway as he sat in the Big T’s drive-thru window. “I believe it keeps people off the road because they can get it in just a short time so they don't have to drive as far.”
With trends going the way they are, it would seem other cities would start to get interested in Sunday sales, but it’s slightly more complicated. You need an election, and getting it on the ballot requires signatures of 15% of the local turnout in the last governor’s election. In a city like Altus (pop. 758), that's maybe a couple hundred people. In a city like Little Rock, it’s thousands of names in a petition drive.
“It has to be a citizen-led effort,” Hardin said. “It has to be someone who takes this up and really has a passion to get this on the ballot.”
There are pockets of passion out there. Counties are deciding wet versus dry every election it seems. And thousands said yes to something once thought even more sinful recently.
“You can certainly say voters have accepted it over the years,” Hardin said. “Certainly most recently with this medical marijuana amendment.”
So more cities may come along, but for now little Altus will drink in the notoriety.
“I don't lose sleep over it,” said Post. “I don't want to lose my customers from the other counties but it's out of my control. It's up to their vote and they have to do what they have to do.”
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