The state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board today approved a retail liquor permit for the Costco store due to open next month on Chenal Parkway.
Sen. Kim Hammer had objected to the permit, which brought a denial of the application by ABC Director Doralee Chandler, the usual practice when public officials complain.
Hammer said the area had sufficient retail liquor outlets. He also questioned whether it might be too close to a daycare center, but the ABC Board was told today that was not correct.
The Costco warehouse club already has a beer and wine permit. But it needs a separate permit for an adjoining retail liquor store with a separate entrance. This would follow the operating plan for a Sam’s Club liquor store in Fayetteville. It is not a new permit for Little Rock, but the transfer of an existing permit previously granted for a store on Stagecoach Road.
The liquor store will serve the general public as well as Costco members. The larger warehouse store will be open only to members. The liquor store will not sell beer and wine, only spirits. It will sell fewer individual items, most of them displayed in shipping palletts, perhaps about 200 items versus thousands in a typical liquor store, a store employee said.
Other retail liquor stores opposed the permit, including the owner of the nearby Legacy Wine and Spirits, David Bevans. They cited the state law that prohibits sale of anything but alcohol in liquor stores. Costco said it was not planning to do so, though opponents emphasized that the liquor store would capitalize on customers of an adjacent store selling other goods. They also emphasized that there were 20 liquor stores within a five-mile radius.
The arguments against Costco, including harming competing retailers, were similar to those made by retailers fighting the permit ultimately awarded the Sam’s Club liquor store in Fayetteville. The Arkansas Supreme Court upheld that permit after a long court fight. The Sam’s situation was noted at today’s meeting. It was also noted that the Sam’s store sells wine, which isn’t in the immediate plans for Costco.
The permit was supported by the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and Vice Mayor Lance Hines, who is city director for the ward where the store would be located. A chamber representative said it would be a bad precedent for the state to step in against a business that met all rules because of competition objections.
Phil Brandon, president of Rock Town Distillery in Little Rock, testified against the permit because of Costco’s ability to compete with his product with store-brand spirits. He said independent stores had been critical to his growth.