The Sun-Times - Heber Springs, AR
  • Dry counties and private clubs

  • In 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibiting the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in the U.S. went into effect. “Prohibition” was the result of efforts by religious, social, political and economic interests as diverse as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union,...
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  • In 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibiting the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in the U.S. went into effect. “Prohibition” was the result of efforts by religious, social, political and economic interests as diverse as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Klu Klux Klan, and African-Americans who railed against “Demon Rum” and other alcoholic products that corrupted human nature.
    Prohibition was also commonly referred to as “The Noble Experiment.” While it may have been noble, it was anything but successful. The law was ignored to the extent that the 1920s were named “the Roaring Twenties.” In New York City alone, there were estimated to be up to 100,000 “speakeasies” where alcohol was sold. Al Capone controlled some 10,000 speakeasies in Chicago and the bootlegging industry from Canada to Florida. The Noble Experiment ended in 1933 with ratification of the Twenty-First Amendment, repealing the Eighteenth Amendment.
    This intriguing bit of our nation’s history supports the concept that it is difficult – and may be counterproductive – to legislate morality and personal conduct. It comes to mind because of the controversy that has arisen locally regarding the approval of a permit by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to allow a proposed restaurant in the Anderson House, a local landmark building near the City Park, to serve alcoholic beverages to its customers.
    The issuance of this permit set off a tempest among some local officials who appeared before the ABC Board offices in Little Rock to object to the issuance of the permit. The Heber Springs Police Chief, David Smith, was particularly upset because he felt that he and the other city officials were treated with disrespect by the Board, and their opinions were not given due consideration.
    This led to the formation of a group of citizens who have evolved into an organization named “The Dry Counties Coalition.” The organization has joined with a similar group located in Jonesboro who are upset about the proliferation of permits in that area.
    The Coalition is headed locally by Larry Thomas of Heber Springs, who states that the purpose of the group is, initially, “to slow down the issuance of permits to restaurants,” and ultimately “to change the laws that allow restaurants to obtain private club permits to serve alcohol.” The Coalition’s first steps will be to attempt to get 1,000 people to attend a rally this Saturday at the front of the State Capitol building in Little Rock, and then to meet with Governor Beebe to express the group’s concerns about the ABC Board’s actions.
    As a result of Arkansas’ “local option” system, under which each county or city may determine whether alcoholic beverages may be sold in that area, Cleburne County is “dry;” that is, alcoholic beverages may not be sold to the general public. Even so, alcoholic beverages may be legally dispensed through non-profit private clubs, provided certain criteria are met by those establishments.
    Page 2 of 3 - It is this contradiction of allowing private clubs to serve alcohol in dry counties that bothers The Dry Counties Coalition. They believe that, if a county has voted to be “dry,” it should be literally dry – at least insofar as restaurants are concerned. They recognize that this will require a change in the law by the Arkansas General Assembly.
    Changing the law will not be easy. It has been tried before – in fact, in virtually every session of the legislature – and although a small majority (42) of the State’s 75 counties are dry, permits have been issued to private clubs in all but nine of those 42 dry counties.
    Arkansans apparently like to be able to go to their private club for a little libation, but don’t want everybody doing it in public.
    Southerners, in particular, are famous for voting dry and drinking wet. As Will Rogers commented during Prohibition, “The South is dry and will vote dry. That is, everybody sober enough to stagger to the polls.”
    Then there is the clash between the perceived immorality of alcohol consumption and the economic gain from the sale of it. The Arkansas Legislature recognized this conflict in the preamble to the alcoholic beverage control law which states that such activities will be strictly regulated, but then acknowledges the importance of tourism and conventions to the state; the competition among states for them; and proclaims that visitors to the state must be provided “accommodations, services and facilities” to allow Arkansas to be competitive with other states.
    The City of Conway has recently seen a significant increase in the number of private club permits, and the Mayor of Conway has encouraged that increase because of the economic benefit to the revitalization of the downtown area. “Our downtown … five years ago was dead,” he said. “Now it’s packed at night. The permits completely helped revitalize our downtown.”
    Lea Klaser, co-owner of Klaser’s Café just east of Heber Springs which has a private club liquor permit, says that it has been beneficial to her restaurant business. “People come to Heber Springs from all over the country to fish and enjoy the lake. They should be able to have a glass of wine or beer with their meal if they want one.”
    People who want a drink can and will get one with little effort. The issue is whether they will be able to get one with lunch or dinner in a restaurant.
    The laws regarding alcoholic beverages may indeed be made more restrictive if their use becomes a problem, but the laws may also be made more lenient if alcohol becomes too difficult to get, or if its lack of availability becomes an obstacle to economic development.
    Private clubs keep the serving of alcohol limited to a relatively small number of well-regulated locations, but give people what they want. Any group seeking to change the laws should be careful that their efforts don’t result in the opposite effect.
    Page 3 of 3 - (Richard Mays, a Heber Springs attorney and environmentalist, offers a liberal viewpoint on politics and social issues in each Friday’s edition)
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