Early voting starts Monday for residents of a historic North Little Rock neighborhood to consider repealing a ban on the sale of alcohol.
It has been almost half a century since residents of Park Hill voted to prohibit alcohol sales. The neighborhood is along both sides of John F. Kennedy Boulevard, between Interstate 40 and McCain Boulevard.
Former North Little Rock Mayor Terry Hartwick, who today is president of the city’s Chamber of Commerce, says the ban has kept the area from reaching its full potential.
He says some have considered opening restaurants there, until learning it’s a dry area.
“Almost immediately they shake their heads and say ‘no, let’s look someplace else.’ So what we’re trying to do really is bring more jobs, a little more revitalization to the Park Hill area and I guess, in a nice way, say we want to be more like Hillcrest to some extent," Hartwick said.
Little Rock’s Hillcrest neighborhood is full of bars and restaurants that are often packed with patrons, who also support nearby shops.
Hartwick notes there aren’t many restaurants in Park Hill, in large part because alcohol sales are a key source of profits. He also notes there aren’t any supermarkets in Park Hill anymore for the same reason.
Hartwick and many business leaders believe allowing alcohol to be served in restaurants and beer and wine to be sold in convenience stores would change that and make it more of a destination.
“If you and I wanted to go for a pizza and a beer after work, you’re not going to Park Hill. And if you were going up there to shop and let’s say you’re going to meet your wife and you want to eat there, you’re not going to eat there, so why stop in the first place. That’s what I’m trying to do is just create that excitement again; bring people back to where, if you’re shopping from jewelry to coats to whatever, then you can stay and eat and enjoy yourself with a family atmosphere.”
The only exception allowing alcohol sales today is for private clubs.
The ban was approved in 1966. Cary Bradburn with the North Little Rock History Commission says the vote was related to a former Arkansas governor and a political insider.
“The back story always was that it involved Orval Faubus as he was leaving office in ’66, paying off a campaign debt, you might say. One of his supporters got a permit to open a liquor store in Park Hill and that set off a petition drive because, word of mouth, oral history, was that there had been a gentleman’s agreement that there would not be liquor stores in Park Hill," Bradburn said.
"So, there were six churches involved in the petition drive. It was a very effective organization and they got it voted dry.”
The coalition, Bradburn said, went by the acronym BALK, which stood for Be Against Liquor on Kennedy.
“Those churches in Park Hill were very influential in getting people to want to vote against liquor stores. They were selling beer in convenience stores and I’m not aware at the time that there were any problems or complaints about it. There were always with underage people buying alcohol, we still have those problems today,” Bradburn said.
There have been previous efforts in recent decades to repeal the ban, but all were defeated at the polls. This time however there have been no organized efforts to fight the proposal, though some residents have expressed concerns, especially families with young children. Park Hill Baptist Church was part of previous efforts to encourage people to vote against allowing alcohol sales. In advance of this vote, its lead pastor did not return a call seeking comment.
Despite the previous loses, Hartwick is confident that this election will be different.
“Times have changed. We’ve heard no big opposition to this. Talking about 1966 compared to more or less 2014, there’s a big difference in how we look at things,” Harwick said.
He notes that in the last couple of years, voters in several Arkansas counties have supported going from dry to wet.
Only about 4,000 registered voters from four precincts in the Park Hill area are eligible to vote in this election.
Early voting continues through Friday, 8 AM to 5 PM at the William F. Laman Library at 2801 Orange Street, and at the Pulaski County Regional Building, 501 W. Markham Street in Little Rock. Election Day will be Tuesday, Nov. 12.