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Requests from her customers have led a Searcy restaurant owner to apply to the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Division for a private club permit to allow the restaurant to serve alcoholic beverages.

"Most of our customers want it. They've been asking for it for years," said Amanda Elston, owner of the Rock House American Restaurant. "Our food is complemented by beer and wine. You know, they don't want to have to drive an hour."



Currently, no restaurants in White County have a private club permit.

According to Milton Lueken, an attorney with the ABC board, applicants in a dry county can apply for a private club permit, but in order to do so, they must first be registered as a non-profit corporation with the Arkansas Secretary of State's Office for an entire calendar year and have a minimum of 100 members at the time of application.


Arkansas law defines a private club as "a non-profit corporation organized and existing under the laws of the state of Arkansas, no part of the net revenues of which shall inure directly or indirectly to the benefit of any of its members or any other individual, except for the payment of bona fide expenses of the club's operation”.

"That's the way the Legislature set it up back in 1969," Lueken said. "I don't why that's the way they did it, but that's the way they did it."

The majority of applicants for private club permits in Arkansas are restaurants in dry areas, according to Lueken, including places like the Jonesboro and Faulkner County.

"The non-profit corporation has to have a purpose for filing this application other than just the consumption of alcohol," he said. "The Legislature passed some stuff several years ago that allows basically for entertainment, food, things of that nature, so a lot of these clubs are now applying. Their purpose is restaurants, which the Arkansas Court of Appeals has ruled is a proper non-profit purpose to have a private club. There's community hospitality serves a purpose, food and entertainment, athletic associations, American Legions, things of that nature."

Elston, who filed her application April 25, said that registration for a non-profit corporation has been in place for a year and she has more than the minimum number of signatures for the application.

"Over 130 in 2 1/2 days. I have people saying, 'Hey, do you need more signatures? Did you get all of them?' They've been doing that for about three days now," she said Thursday.

According to Lueken, once the application has been reviewed, public officials are notified that an application for a private club permit has been filed.

"We send it to the mayor, to the chief of police, to the prosecuting attorney, the sheriff. The reason we do that is we want to give them the opportunity to weigh in on whether they think this is a good idea or a bad idea," he said. "And our agent will come up there and he will look at the place and if there's any residences close by, he will try to contact them, because neighbors sometimes get concerned when it's alcohol involved."

Location is also a factor in the application, according to Lueken.

"Are their neighbors close by? Are there other businesses close by? Are there churches near by? Are there any schools close by? Will the school object? Will the church object? Will the neighbors object? Will the public officials object? We never know. We never know who might object or who might not," Lueken said.
The application then goes before ABC Director Bud Roberts.

"He makes the first decision," Lueken said. "He will probably turn it down if we get a lot of opposition. And, obviously, if we get no opposition, he'll more then likely grant it."


What Lueken doesn't state is that the location is not so much of a factor with a private club license as it is for a liquor store.  A liquor store cannot be located within 1000 feet of a church or a school. That distance is measured from property line to property line, not edge of building as most ABC Agents erroneously believe.  That is what happens when you have a leader like tainted ABC Enforcement Director Boyce Hamlet who has a self-proclaimed metal disability involving mathematics.


Readers will also recall that complaints often do not factor at all.  Remember when state Representative Julie Mayberry complained about a liquor store going in close to a daycare center.

For example the 1836 Club in Little Rock is within 1000 feet of a school and church building.  And Dillard's, which has building on either side of the 1836 Club greatly opposed the club's permit. Click her to read Dillard's letter of Opposition.
Luken also stated that, an appellant process is available to applicants who have been denied by the director.

"If you get turned down, it's not the end of the deal. You would appeal the director's decision before the full ABC board," Lueken said. "It would then be set for a hearing before the board; you would be notified of the time, date and place of the hearing. The public officials that objected would also be notified, and the reason being that's their opportunity to come to Little Rock and testify to the board why they think this is a bad idea, or a good idea".

"The applicant that made the application comes before the ABC board and states the case to the ABC board for why he or she thinks this a good idea. ... The board sits and listens to both sides and then, right then and there, makes their determination. Either yes or no, yes we're granting, or no we're upholding the director's decision and we're going to turn you down, because the sheriff doesn't like it, or it's a dangerous intersection, or the church, or whatever reason."

Denied by the full ABC board, applicants can then appeal to the circuit court, and, if denied there, to the Court of Appeals, according to Lueken, though "most of them don't quite as far as that," he said.

However, a new law, set to go into effect August 1, 2017, will change the entire process and place more control in the hands of local officials in dry areas, according to Lueken.

Act 1112 of 2017, which was passed by the Arkansas General Assembly during the regular session, states that "Application for a permit to operate as a private club may be made to the governing body of the county or municipality in which the private club seeks to be located. If the governing body ”approves by ordinance an application for a permit to operate as a private club” the [ABC] Division may issue a permit ”to the applicant."

"It gives a greater degree of local control for private club applications," Lueken said. "If you get turned down by your city council or quorum court, you can't go any further."

"In other words, before this law was changed, or is going to be changed in August, if I lived in Searcy and I wanted a private club application, I applied directly to the ABC. I didn't mess around or fool around or ask anybody's permission. Now, commencing Aug. 1, 2017, if I live in Searcy, or somewhere in White County, and I want to file an application with ABC for a private club permit, I first have to run it by the quorum court or the city council. So, this is a big, big change in the law."

Rock House Manager Craig Robinson said so far they haven't encountered any opposition to their plans.

"Everybody's entitled to put in their support or their opposition in either way," he said. "Obviously, we're excited about it. We think it would be great for the local economy here. We think it would be great for our community to have another family friendly place they can come where everybody can get what they want foodwise, and if an alcoholic drink, or a beer, is something that they desire to have, then that's something they can get right here in Searcy."

The Rock House is directly across the street from Harding University, and no doubt they will object.


Another Searcy restaurant, El Almacen is seeking to apply for a private club permit, according to Manager Jose Garcia. The restaurant must first gather the required number of members before submitting its application.

A manager with Chili's Grill in Searcy could neither confirm nor deny rumors indicating that it is also applying for a permit.

According to ABC records there are currently only four private club permit holders in White County. They are:
• Searcy VFW Post 2330, held by Larry D. McGehee;
• Searcy Country Club, held by Wadad Sleiman;
• Searcy Elks Lodge, held by Johnny B. Scritchfield;
• Beebe VFW Post 7769, held by Kenneth P. Adams.

We also expect area legislators to object to the private club license.

*parts of this post were sourced from an article that appeared in the Searcy Daily Citizen.

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