May 2, 2022 - News

Walmart spearheads push for Sunday alcohol sales

Illustration of a ballot box with beer foam and a mug handle.
Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Walmart is leading an effort to overturn the ban on Sunday alcohol sales in Rogers and Bentonville.

What's happening: The company spun up a two-person committee comprised of Michael Lindsey, Walmart's director of government relations, and Clay Kendall, Rogers City Council member, to lead the petition process to get the issue on the November ballot.

  • The campaign is called "Keep our dollars local."

Between the lines: Opponents of the sales ban say the cities are missing out on sales tax revenue because people buy alcohol on Sundays anyway but are forced to shop elsewhere.

  • "It just doesn't make a lot of sense," Kendall told Axios, adding that the goal is also to give people choice in where and when they buy alcohol.

State of play: Selling alcohol on Sundays, unless it's served at a bar, brewery or restaurant, is illegal by default statewide, even in wet counties like Benton.

  • Wet counties allow breweries, bars without attached kitchens and wholesale alcohol sales at retail establishments, such as liquor or grocery stores. Dry counties do not.
  • Sunday bans are relics of "blue laws" prohibiting "immoral activities" on Sundays, dating back to the early 19th century, according to the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association.

Yes, but: Act 294 of 2009 allows anyone to start a petition to allow Sunday alcohol sales in a wet county or a city within a wet county. They have to get 15% of county or city residents who voted in the most recent gubernatorial election to sign to get the issue on a ballot.

  • The issue has to win 50% plus one vote to pass.

What they're saying: Kendall said Walmart took the initiative to start the petition, and Lindsey asked him to chair the committee, which has been organizing signature-gathering efforts at community events.

  • "Sunday is a very busy shopping day, and supporting Sunday sales is just another way we add convenience for our customers," Lindsey said in a statement to Axios through a spokesperson.

Context: Walmart dominates grocery sales in NWA, with Walmart stores, Walmart Neighborhood Markets and Sam's Club accounting for 79% of the market share in the region.

  • Its Arkansas stores primarily sell wine and beer because grocery stores are prohibited from selling hard liquor.
  • Of note: You may remember a legal battle over the company opening a Fayetteville Sam's Club with an attached liquor store in 2007. The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in the company's favor in 2009.

What's next: Kendall said last week that the campaign had roughly 60-70% of the signatures it needs for petitions in both Rogers and Bentonville.

  • He said he's not aware of any organized pushback to the issue and expects it to make the ballot and pass in the general election. Signatures are due in August.

Flashback: Voters approved Sunday alcohol sales in Springdale in 2012.

Zoom out: 19 cities, including Benton and Washington counties' Springdale, Tontitown, Avoca, Pea Ridge, Garfield and Gentry, allow alcohol sales on Sunday, according to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.

What it's like to buy wine at ALDI in Bentonville on Sunday. Photo: Alex Golden/Axios
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