Expanded wine selections coming to Arkansas grocery stores

LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has voted to issue new wine permits for grocery stores in the state.

The board voted Wednesday after a federal judge rejected an effort by some Arkansas liquor stores to block expanded wine sales by grocers, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Grocery and convenience stores that were limited to selling only small-batch farm wines will now be able to expand their selections to include all wine varieties. Only liquor stores had been previously authorized to sell all wine varieties in the state.

The board had earlier allowed stores with pending permits to stock up on wines in anticipation of the vote, said Mary Robin Casteel, director of the board. That means the expanded selection is already in place for several stores.

The new law that created the grocery-store wine permit officially took effect on Oct. 1. But Wednesday’s meeting was the first chance the board had to consider more than 200 permit applications that have been waiting at least 30 days.

Four central Arkansas liquor store owners had argued to freeze the permit-granting process until the legalities of the new legislation could be examined in detail. The federal claim said the law violated the Equal Protection Clause, and argued that grocers were subject to less strict requirements concerning restrictions on the number of permits available per population and permissible locations, among other things.

But the judge denied the owners’ request for a preliminary injunction, saying they were unlikely to succeed on their federal claim.

Casteel said liquor stores have stricter rules because they also sell hard liquor, which grocery retailers don’t.

Paul James, an attorney representing the liquor stores, said his clients respect the judge’s opinion but are disappointed.