Hundreds of alcohol permits are hitting the hands of ABC agents in Northwest Arkansas, and the demand is bringing more agents to our area.
"It's a lot and we knew it was going to be a lot so we're ready for it. We'll be able to process them, and we'll get it done," said Rick Crisman, Deputy Director with Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Alcohol applications have been pouring into Benton County, since the election results were certified.
"We can see them in convenience stores, we can see them in restaurants, we can see them in grocery stores, and then liquor stores as well."
Crisman knew there was going to be an influx of inquiries after going folks voted to turn the county wet in November, but extra manpower is now essential.
"We'll have some agents come up here temporarily to help process the applications and we are planning on adding a full time agent position just because of the amount of permits that we do have in Northwest Arkansas, or what we will have."
Convenience stores will be first to make their way through the application process.
"E-Z Mart, Kum & Go, Casey's General Store, they've all applied at several different locations. I think it's around 28 different locations."
But the detailed application process is time consuming. Every application is worked by agent, and there are only two agents currently in Northwest Arkansas. Once an application is completed, it is sent to Little Rock and presented to the ABC Board. The 28 applications currently on file will most likely be presented January 19. In the meantime, Crisman said businesses have to place an ad in the paper and post a notice in their window for 30 days, all before being approved.
"We could see alcohol being sold, beer and small farm wine, in the convenience stores as early as late January."
Liquor stores, however, will not start popping up until the summer months. ABC will set a date to start officially accepting liquor permit applications, and while that date has not yet been set it has not stopped the number of requests coming in.
"One liquor permit per 4,000 people in the county, and Benton County actually qualifies for 55 liquor permits. We have sent out applications to people who have requested them, for liquor permits alone in Benton County, it's at 150 right now."
Liquor permit applications will be accepted for two months, and then they will close the application window. Crisman said they will finish processing the applications and all approved applicants will be placed into a lottery system in Little Rock. Officials will pull 55 names, and those are the 55 that will get liquor permits. For each application, an ABC agent must complete a number of tasks including inspecting the property, drawing a diagram, making sure the owner lives within 35 miles of the business, and ensure the proposed location for the liquor store is not within 1,000 feet of school or church from building to building, not property line to property line.
Also, every applicant must undergo a background check and be fingerprinted. Crisman said they will not issue a permit to anyone that has been convicted of a felony.
For those wondering how current establishments are already selling alcohol in Benton County, Crisman said they are operating as a private club. Business owners had to drive to a wet county with a liquor store that had a federal wholesale permit, purchase alcohol at retail price and bring it back to Benton County. Now, since going wet, these establishments can apply for retail beer permits. Under that permit, they can advertise the availability of beer with things like neon lights and uncovered patios. However, if they still want to sell liquor by the drink, like margaritas or cocktails, they must keep their private club status.
With ABC agents working to process every alcohol application, booze will soon be flowing in Benton County.