Downtown Jonesboro Association in favor of liquor licenses in dry counties

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - The Arkansas Court of Appeals has upheld the decision of the state Alcohol Beverage Control Board to grant an alcohol permit to a business located in a dry county.

The ABC issued the permit to Lamar's Bistro, a club located within the Bayou Bistro Restaurant in Columbia County.

Arkansas law permits private clubs in dry counties to serve alcohol.  A group of residents challenged the permit in court, saying Lamar's Bistro does not fit the criteria to be considered a private club.

In a 5-1 decision, the state Court of Appeals ruled the ABC was not in violation by granting the permit because serving alcohol to enhance the dining experience is enough reason to permit alcohol sales.

"This ruling is just kind of enforcing what has taken place for a long time now," said Downtown Jonesboro Association president Shelli Wood.

Wood believes the ruling by the Arkansas Court of Appeals in favor of the liquor license for the Magnolia, Arkansas restaurant is a step in the right direction for Arkansas' downtown businesses. "I think their main goal, like what our main goal is as far as the Downtown (Jonesboro) Association and what we want to do, is promoting the stability, the economic stability of our businesses down here."

"I think one of the concerns is that they feel like as a county they have certain rights, and they vote on these things, and it was voted in as a dry county, and they want to be able to maintain that."

The group based their case on a 2001 court ruling that denied the Chili's in Jonesboro an alcohol permit because it did not qualify as a private club. The judges who issued the five majority opinions disagreed, saying the legal definition includes "entertainment" and "community hospitality".

Wood said those things are at the heart of the issue when it comes to revitalizing a downtown area.

"I think if it's a competitive advantage, and that's what I think it's really interpreting itself as, a competitive advantage for them, then I think it's a good thing."

The plaintiffs in Columbia County have not decided whether to take the case to the Arkansas
Supreme Court.

According to the Alcohol Beverage Control Board web site, nearly 30 businesses in Arkansas have applied for liquor licenses as private clubs since January 2012.

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