After several failed attempts, a statewide push to make all counties in Arkansas “wet” or alcohol-sale-friendly, has been approved by the attorney general. If enough signatures are collected in the next month, a ballot initiative could be placed in front of every voter in Arkansas in November, the same time we will all be voting for several state and national offices.
Even before this latest news, there has already been a local effort to have a similar law passed in Faulkner County — there are still those canvassing for signatures at the county-level.
Although it may seem to be a simple question — do we want easier access to alcohol in our city and county — there are other issues to consider, and this latest development can actually create a situation where those who have nothing to do with Faulkner County can tell us how our community will be from here on out.
If a ballot initiative does make it to the state voters in a few months, then those people in Little Rock and Fayetteville will decide whether we will begin to house liquor stores on our blocks and makeshift beer and wine aisles in our grocery stores. While we have nothing personally against these images — we have certainly progressed passed the days of prohibition and bootlegging — it says something that the ability to create parts of our community the way we see fit could be taken away from us.
Conway, along with several other cities in Arkansas, have participated in an experiment over the past few years that allows us to be a “damp” county. Many restaurants have become in a sense private clubs, with no real differences to restaurants in larger areas in the state. Because of that, if you want to have a burger with your beer or a glass of wine with your steak, there are many places where that is possible. It has allowed Conway to grow and to bring more things to more people. No longer do you have to trek 30 minutes for a fine meal and everything that comes with it.
We believe it’s an experiment that has worked. The downtown scene has thrived, and Conway has become a hub for more familiar franchises (with many more on the way courtesy of Central Landing, among other developments). But what happens if that experiment is changed not by our own people, but by those who do not help provide nor care for the community of Conway? Shouldn’t the decision of what we make our area reside with the people who have committed to live in it?
There are many questions that can be raised by shifting from a dry (or damp) county to one that is wet. There will be concerns from businesspeople, law enforcement and city planners. The last time this concern was addressed was nearly 40 years ago, and although times are always changing, it is nice to know that it has been the people of Conway who have been able to dictate that change.
This isn’t a human rights issue, like various ones being waged in our capitol. This is about the ability for the villagers to have a say about the village in which they live.
We’ve done pretty well so far. We shouldn’t have anyone else telling us it doesn’t work.