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Federal judge denies request to halt grocery wine permit approvals

It's now up to a federal judge whether big box stores will be issued grocery wine permits this Wednesday.

UPDATE 11/14:

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Brian Miller denied the motion for a preliminary injunction. He also dismissed the plaintiffs' claim of Equal Protection. The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration tells KATV, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board will review 217 grocery wine permit applications on Wednesday.

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ORIGINAL 11/13:

It's now up to a federal judge whether big box stores will be issued grocery wine permits this Wednesday.

It's come down to the final hours for a group of liquor store owners as they argue they want time to build their case.

ACT 508 of 2017 allows for stores like Walmart and Kroger to expand their wine selection. This Wednesday, the Alcoholic Beverage Control is expected to take up more than 200 grocery wine permits.

Walmart has 67 pending, Walgreens has 36, while Kroger has 15, according to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.

The owner of Legacy Wine and Spirits in Little Rock, the owner of 107 Liquor in Sherwood and the owner of Crossroads Wine & Spirits in Bryant all testified on Monday.

All three owners say this is the busiest time of the year for them - it’s also widely known across the industry as “OND”, or October, November, December. They’re now asking a judge to issue a stay on granting the grocery wine permits until they can argue their case in court.

Attorneys for the liquor store owners argue the law passed didn't change public policy, because the now two separate laws are contradicting.

The state argues that lawmakers have the right to change public policy, and they did just that by allowing for the establishment of grocery wine permits. They also said the defendants have no merit in this case.

“It's about the law being applied to everyone. We go through an extensive process to get what we have, to sell what we have. The legislature, I don't think, completed the task. If they wanted to change some things, they needed to do a few more things,” said John Kelly, Longhills Wine & Spirits owner.

“It's very scary. The whole landscape has changed. When we made this investment, this is not what we expected. Everything has changed,” said Debbie Goolsby, owner of Crossroads Wine & Spirits.

Goolsby testified that she recently invested at least $2 million after opening a new liquor store in Bryant six months ago; Saline County went wet within the last year.

KATV spoke with attorneys from the attorney general’s office who are representing the state. They had no comment.

U.S. District Judge Brian Miller is expected to make a decision by Tuesday morning, which could halt the issuance of grocery wine permits this Wednesday.

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