Wet/Dry: A Tale Of Two Cities

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Conway, AR -- Conway's downtown district on the outside looks a lot like most others with eclectic restaurants, trendy shops and busy city streets.

Like Jonesboro's downtown area, Conway's district is experiencing the same push for a re-development of sorts---inviting more shops and more restaurants, but also, some say, inviting more problems.... very similar to what some in Jonesboro see as a problem for our downtown area.

"It's been the last two years we've seen the aggressive move to liquor by the drink," said David Hatfeild, pastor at Woodland Heights Baptist Church in Conway, "We have seen the handwriting on the wall.  Now, we feel like the more we fight the less opportunity we have to really accomplish anything."

He is among several area pastors opposed to alcohol sales in dry Faulkner county.

"So it's become discouraging as we see more and more come in and granted so readily the license to serve liquor," said Hatfield.

"Mike's Place was the first private club to open in Conway.  Since 1943, we had a lot to live up to," said Mike Coats.

Mike's place opened in downtown Conway in the summer of '05.

With his 30 plus years of restaurant experience and the 18,000 memberships already, Coats says so far so good.

"It was a community that was really wanting to take the next step to bring in nicer dining and other chains, and other local establishments," said Coats.

Brad Lacy is president and CEO of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and director of the Conway Development Corporation.

"The business community definitely wants it and supports it," said Lacy, who believes many city leaders share that same sentiment.

"Our target is technology companies......technology companies demand a certain quality of life and a certain lifestyle that we can offer through restaurants like Mike's in a downtown area," said Lacy.

From locally owned restaurants to locally owned clothing stores Conway's downtown area, much like Jonesboro's downtown area has something for just about everyone.

One main goal for Conway's Development Corporation is to continue to attract and accommodate and even wider variety of consumer.

Many agree that a vibrant downtown area is vital for a thriving community.

"Where you can shop, eat, live.....that's just a trend that you're seeing all across the United States and we're going to be apart of it here," said Lacy.

Jonesboro and Conway are home to well over 55,000 people each and each city continues to grow year after year.

Both cities have colleges with roots anchored deep within the community and both are seeing a boom in big business.  It also seems both house a strong opposition to alcohol in the city and county.

"There's a wide division among the Christian community about the acceptability or advisability about the use of alcohol," said Hatfield.

Similar to what you might hear from the opposition in Jonesboro, it's not necessarily Hatfeild's religious convictions that push him to be so vigilant about this issue.

"This community, under a legal constitutional voting system, has said we don't want alcohol in this community.  A group of people are saying we don't care what you voted, we're going to do what we feel like is appropriate for the community," said Hatfield.

Coats says alcohol is such a small percentage of what he does. So some might argue--then why serve alcohol at all?

"I think there's a clientele out there.  I think when we're bringing clients in from out of town, because so many of the clients come from full service environments, they want a place where adults can make adult choices," said Coats.

"...But how much is that really worth to the safety of this community to the moral integrity of this community? I see that as carrying a very high price to it and so far I haven't seen a single business that in my opinion can bring any kind of benefit to this community that outweighs that," said Hatfield.

The issue of alcohol sales in dry counties is not confined just to Craighead or Faulkner county.  It also appears that both cities similar in so many ways may be headed down a different path on at least one issue.