Sunday, July 10, 2005

Holt vs. Liquor at SAM'S Club: the real story

By Mark Moore (click "comments" below for article).


Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

I talked with state Senator Jim Holt the other day about his ongoing dispute with SAM'S club. This is news because it is considered unwise, to say the least, to tell the Wal-Mart empire "no", especially in NWA.

The story began over a year ago. Holt was busy with a Republican primary for United States Senate. He won the primary, but was later defeated in the general election by well-funded incumbant Blanche Lincoln.

Wal-Mart wanted to build a SAM's Club in Springdale, Jim Holt's neighborhood. He was distressed to learn that they wanted to sell liquor in the same facility in which they sold groceries, drugs, and everything else. In Arkansas, the law is that stores which sell liquor (the hard stuff, not just fermented alcohol such as beer) cannot sell groceries or drugs or anything else. SAM's wanted to have a liquor store in the same facility, presumably like the optometry centers in Wal-Mart.

Holt filed an objection with the state's ABC Board, which gives liquor licenses. As Senator Holt explains it, "There are many good reasons for the law. People who are struggling to stay away from alcohol should not have to deal with having temptation right there every time they get groceries." Holt also contended that the action could lead to an increase in alcohol abuse, "If SAM's does it, the others will have to do it too. Supply creates it's own demand."

Even more fundamentally, Holt insisted that, "the same rules should apply to the big guys as apply to the little guys. All the other liquor stores are bound by these rules, SAM's should not be allowed to bully it's way into an exception." This idea is important to Holt, "Government should not play favorites. You stand on principle. Without a willingness to do that, government just becomes a tool that the strong use against the weak".

In the early morning hours after his titanic primary victory, Holt drove to Little Rock in order to speak at the ABC meeting in opposition to granting the permit. He had been up well past mid-night helping clean the place where the victory party had been held. He awoke in time to make the drive from Springdale to Little Rock for the 10AM meeting.

Wal-Mart sent 13 well dressed representatives, plus Leon Holmes (now a federal judge) as their attorney.

Holt and the others objecting were just enough to convince the board not to grant the permit. At one point they presented a petition signed by hundreds of individuals objecting to the liquor license. Attorney Holmes for Wal-Mart questioned the validity of the petitions, "I see where Sam Walton's name is on this petition" he said. Holt later countered, "If Sam Walton had the chance, I believe he would have signed it."

Later SAM's issued a statement that said they would build a separate facility to house the liquor. When asked at that point, Holt said he would drop his legal objection to the license. The papers in what I have come to call the "lamestream media" quickly and erroneously reported that Holt had backed down. It was true that he said he would drop his objection to the license, but the reason was that SAM's stated that it was now willing to comply with the same rules everyone else had to follow. Even though I know the papers around here have been told the truth on this point, I still read articles that say Holt dropped his objections, but fail to mention that it was because SAM's said they would comply with the law. This leaves a false impression that Holt backed down.

Soon after the papers did their spinning to make it appear that Holt had blinked, SAM's said they were going to go to Fayetteville, out of Holt's district, and build the SAM's club there- with the hard liquor store tucked neatly inside. Holt has again filed an objection. This time it is unlikley that he will be dissuaded by any claims from SAM's about what their facilities will look like.

SAM's has gotten other office holders of the area, like Fayetteville's Sue Madison, and even known conservatives like Gravette's Kim Hendren to sign on saying they want the SAM's club- laws or no laws.

The ABC board meeting for the Fayetteville permit is in Little Rock on July 20th.

5:18 PM, July 10, 2005  
Anonymous Toast said...

Mr. Toast said...
I remember the ABC board denying Sam's Club's appeal for a liquor license at the proposed west Springdale store based on the already sufficient number of liquor stores in that area as well as traffic congestion. In other words, rather than tell Wal-Mart "no" based on the law you referenced, the board took a compromising approach that left Wal-Mart with the impression that they could try their hand elsewhere in the state which they have there in Fayettville.

The ABC board needs some pressure exerted on it to enforce existing laws. The board needs to tell Wal-Mart and other stores point blank that liquor stores must be bona fide physically separate buildings.

11:26 AM

5:20 PM, July 10, 2005  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

The ABC board used a number of reasons to deny the permit. They did not lean soley on that law because the SAM's forces were able to give example of other stores that sold liquor+. Of course the proper thing to do in such a case is to suspend the liquor licences of the offenders, but some of those board members had voted to grant those licenses. Some of those licenses may have been granted in error.

They stepped around the awkward situation by giving a popourri of reasons to deny the applicant.

5:23 PM, July 10, 2005  
Anonymous Former Jim Holt fan said...

Why not let the free market resolve this matter???? If SAMS having a the ability to sell all types of booze in its stores causes problems, then the people should rise up and refuse to shop there. Why do we have to have government involved in this matter? The people are smart enough to figure this out for themselves. Why is Jim Holt turning to big government to solve a problem????

4:45 AM, July 11, 2005  
Blogger Mr. Toast said...

What are you talking about? You have a gripe with the law, so you take it out on the legislators who try to enforce it? Holt didn't "turn to the government", the law already exists. If you think it's a bad law, then try to convince enough people to get it changed. But asking our government to turn a blind eye on selective laws is an outrage to those of us who work hard to get things passed in spite of the opposition from liberal legislators. Furthermore, I don't believe that there's a thing un-American or anti-'free' market about regulating booze, and there are plenty of Founders who share my opinion.

4:59 PM, July 11, 2005  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

To former fan....

So if SAM's wants to sell to minors then it is up to individual people to stop it? At some point, I think all of us agree there should be some regulations on alcohol.

I am for as few laws as we can get away with and still have a functioning civil society. Things that impair reason, such as drugs and alcohol, are fair game for regulation. This is because you have a responsibility to your neighbors to stay in your right mind so that they can necogicate with a rational person.

But the bigger principle here, the all-important one, is that when rules are set everyone should be treated the same. Everyone should be bound by them. Rules that are only binding for the little guy are patently unfair. That is not a civil society, but a jungle. Surely you can see the sense in that?

8:26 PM, July 11, 2005  
Anonymous Grateful Citizen said...

I sure am grateful for what Senator Holt has done to keep the liquor sales off the shelves of SAM'S Club. I would hate for the potential drunks to terrorize women, children and other law-abiding citizens at the parking lot of a grocery store where the average citizens just want to go buy food. To me, there's hardly a "civilized drunk", and there will very likely be drunks that hover at the parking lot and its vicinity! It's not like we don't have stores that cater to liquor sales already conveniently scattered all over Washington County.

5:01 AM, July 12, 2005  
Anonymous MArk Moore said...

....and another thing

Being "pro-business" is not where the government decides which businesses it will favor and which it won't. That is crony capitalism, aka corruption. A pro-business environment is one in which businesses can spend thier time, energy, and effort serving customers rather than currying favor with the government. Right now a lot of busineses spend a lot of effort looking for a "special deal" from the government- because right now that pays. The small business cannot afford to do that, so what we wind up with is government collusion with big business to tilt the playing field in favor of some and against others. Then they have the nerve to call that "pro-business".

Pro business is really (in part) where the businesses know the rules will be the same for all and they don't have to expend protection money, time and effort, to keep government officials from giving their competitors an advantage.

6:08 AM, July 12, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just saw over at that Jim Holt is calling for Karl Rove's ass on the national stage. Who does Jim Holt think he is? (and is he right?)

4:41 PM, July 13, 2005  
Blogger Mr. Toast said...

Here's the law:

AR 3-4-218
"No new liquor permit shall be issued to, nor any outstanding liquor permit be transferred to any person, firm, or corporation wherein the permitted premises of the liquor permit-tee is operated as part of the profit making business of any drug, grocery, sporting goods, dry goods, hardware, or any general mercantile stores or any other business unrelated to the retail package sale of such liquor."

I would think that any reasonable person would interpret this as prohibiting Wal-Mart/Sam's from doing what they're trying to do.

4:56 PM, July 13, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even as a free standing store????

5:40 PM, July 13, 2005  
Blogger Mr. Toast said...

This law was obviously NOT passed just to make it challenging and fulfilling for architects who design liquor stores. I think it's rather obvious that the intent of this law is to force merchants to decide whether they want their stores to sell x, y, and z ("any other business unrelated to the retail package sale of such liquor") OR booze. It's quite clearly an either/or proposition.

Wal-Mart tries to twist around the meaning of "premise" to imply that it means only that segment of the store that contains the liquor, but such word wrangling clearly chokes any purpose or logical origin out of this law.

7:03 PM, July 13, 2005  
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