Benton County residents did not just vote for a president on election night, they also voted to make the county wet. Results show that 66 percent voted for the removal of the ban.
Siloam Springs was a dry town within a dry county, but because of regulations the town became wet along with the county. The Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Commission Committee allows for towns to vote on an ordinance to retain their dry status within a wet county in three years.
Wayne Mays, the director of the Chamber of Commerce, said the ABC will review all applications of liquor stores or restaurants that want to serve alcohol, and that it would probably be next June before Siloam saw any changes.
Mays said it is uncertain how many convenience stores and restaurants will opt to sell alcohol.
“It is all consumer driven,” he explained.
Previously, restaurants had to possess a license as a private club to sell alcohol, which the ABC also regulates. Benton County had the highest amount of club licenses of all dry counties, Mays said, which led to the joke that Benton County was the wettest dry county around.
David Cameron, city administrator, said the ABC has formulas to judge how many free-standing liquor stores can be in one area. According to Siloam Spring’s population, there can be three within city limits.
However, students should not necessarily expect a store around the corner from the University. If a liquor store opens outside of Siloam Springs, they only have to pay county and state sales taxes.
Mays said it all depends on if the liquor store owners think their supply and demand will be worth the extra city tax of being within Siloam Spring’s limits. The closer proximity may not be worth it, Mays indicated, because there are still a considerable amount of people in Siloam that want to remain dry.
The campaign to remove the ban, Keep Dollars in Benton County, ran on the platform that this would increase commerce and revenue within the county rather than residents’ spending their money in Oklahoma and Missouri.
The Siloam Springs Chamber of Commerce did not take a position on the referendum, but now that it has passed and is a reality, they hope it will bring more businesses to the city.
“This is new to all of us,” Mays said. “So we’re just going to feel our way through it.”
Andre Broquard, dean of students and director of residence life, said the University had not and will not take a position on the wet status of the county.
“It won’t change our policies or how we administer them,” he said. “Even though we were a dry county, we had liquor stores practically across the street. So this change won’t really affect us.”
Broquard emphasized that while students’ attitudes are changing over the years concerning alcohol consumption, the University’s policies have not and the University will continue to implement those policies as before.
Several restaurants in town, such as 28 Springs, already serve alcohol through their private club license, so alcohol has always been close and easily available to students, he said.
Usually chain restaurants look at demographics before building in a town. They will not go somewhere they cannot make a large profit, so Siloam Springs has been passed over multiple times for the 540 corridor. The competition of the casino across the border did not help Siloam Springs’ economy either.
Although Siloam Springs has an overly large number of young adults due to the University, the population is still under 20,000. These young adults are also not allowed to drink alcohol because of the community covenant. Until recently, no one could drink due to the alcohol ban.
If being able to serve alcohol was the main issue, restaurants would come to Siloam Springs. But the issue of demographics has not changed, so the future economic growth of businesses will be slow.
“We are closer to attracting chain restaurants than before,” Mays said. “This has improved our chances.
Senior Liana Medina said she did not think it would affect her much.
“As a JBU student, I’m honestly indifferent to Benton County going wet. I come from an urban city though so a wet county is something I’m already used to. Seeing as the covenant is still in place for JBU students it shouldn’t affect us either way.”
Benton County was one of three counties in Arkansas that voted to remove the alcohol ban on Nov. 6.