LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday signed into law a bill to allow grocery stores to sell wine from any winery.
Senate Bill 284 by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, will end a restriction in current law that lets grocery stores in wet counties sell only wines from “small-farm wineries,” defined as wineries that produce no more than 250,000 gallons of wine per year.
Fees paid by grocery stores for wine permits will go into a fund that would provide grants to help support Arkansas’ wine industry.
The bill also will allow liquor stores to sell food products that complement alcoholic beverages.
Large grocery chains that supported the bill, including Wal-Mart Stores and Kroger, have pledged not to push for elections to turn dry counties wet for the next eight years, which won them support from some owners of liquor stores adjacent to dry counties. Many liquor store owners have continued to opposed the bill.
The law goes into effect Oct. 1, except for the provisions creating the grant program, which goes into effect Jan. 1.
“Alcohol is one of the most heavily regulated industries in our economy,” Hutchinson said in a statement Wednesday. “Dating back to the repeal of prohibition, alcohol laws have evolved uniquely in each state, and Arkansas is no different.
“I took a balanced view towards SB 284, and in the end, I was moved to sign the bill by its positive considerations for the consumer. I believe, in the end, this bill (is) a compromise solution and represents the best path forward.”
The Distilled Spirits Council said in a statement Wednesday the bill is estimated to cause existing liquor stores to lose an average of $90,000 in revenue annually, or about 8 percent of store revenue, and result in 35-40 stores going out of business, costing 100-150 jobs.
“Instead of picking winners and losers, Arkansas should implement a plan that is consumer-friendly and provides a level playing field for beer, wine and spirits,” Distilled Spirits Council Vice President Dale Szyndrowski said in the statement.
“We urge Gov. Hutchinson and the Arkansas Legislature to come back to the table and help retailers that were left out of this deal. We believe there is a fair approach to reforming Arkansas’ outdated alcohol laws that serves all parties,” he said.