Liquor stores battle on | Arkansas Blog

Friday, March 10, 2017

Liquor stores battle on

Posted By on Fri, Mar 10, 2017 at 3:21 PM

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Independent liquor stores lost a battle with Walmart, grocery stores and a handful of county line liquor stores that profit from next-door dry counties with passage of the bill to allow expanded wine offerings in grocery stores that sell wine.

But they are still counter-punching.

One example is the request for an attorney general's opinion on the agreement between the grocery stores and several big liquor stores to cease hostilities for eight years. In return for the expanded wine business, the grocery stores agree to try for no law changes or wet option elections in dry counties for eight years.

I'm no lawyer, but I think I can supply a response to the question and an answer:

1) Attorney general will say the letter presents a question about a private agreement, not state law, so she's unable to respond.

2) The agreement is NOT enforceable by any state actor, though I guess if one side or the other reneged on promises one of the parties could sue the other.

UPDATE: No decision on this out of Rutledge today.

As much as anything, I think this is a stab at keeping front and center thedeal-making — to the detriment of small liquor stores — that went  on and the fact that it included the putative cooperation and approval of Gov. Asa Hutchinson (who has yet to sign the legislation.) His staff disavows anything but neutrality on this issue. They say accurately that the governor has no legal enforcement power over a private party contract. But he does wield plenty of influence, particularly in his control of, for example, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division. And his office was included on e-mails obtained by the liquor stores that showed the grocery/county line liquor lobbyists communicated with the governor's office on changes in the bill.

The lobbying has continued to try to dissuade the governor from signing the bill. Close as the votes were (53 votes in the House), a veto override isn't necessarily a sure thing, were he to decide to do so.

 Arkansas liquor law is a byzantine, three-tiered system of protectionism in a state with a crazy quilt of alcohol preferences. Legislation is on file  to upset that system in retaliation for punishment of liquor stores with broadened grocery store competition.

Consider:

* If Arkansas wineries get a grant program and visitors center, what do liquor stores get, besides a broader ability to sell beef jerky and Beer Nuts? So far, nothing.

* Why not let liquor stores pay for deliveries with credit cards, not cash or check.

* Why not end the rule that says wholesalers have monopolies on individual brands. Competition among wholesalers on Cutty Sark would produce lower prices for retailers.

* Let liquor stores deliver.

* Let retail stores pool purchases for lower prices.

* Allow store chains.

* Retailers say Walmart is able to get wine supplies to stock shelves, a lbor cost savings. Why not allow suppliers to stock at liquor stores? Free stocking for all or none.

There's more. But it might get interesting.


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