While Walmart in Ash Flat was the first to be stocked, the Villager Journal was at the Rebel Station in Hardy for the first purchases there. Store owners Jerry and Rhonda Messer said they had to jump through a lot of hoops to get their beer and wine permit, but were excited to be among the first to offer beer for sale in the county.
As a bright blue Bud Light truck rolled into Hardy to stock the Rebel Station before noon, customers stopped to view history in the making as drivers dollied in the beer to the first chilled beer cooler in the county. Another Budweiser representative busied himself hanging neon signs in the storefront, while others counted the cases and the Messers recorded their inventory. Rhonda Messer said the Rebel Station will also stock wine but was unsure of the delivery date for the products.
Jerry Messer said he woke up at 5 a.m. on Jan. 17, and headed to Little Rock to pick up his license. He then headed straight back to Hardy to wait for the delivery trucks to arrive from Newport so they could begin selling to the public that day.
Long time Hardy resident Kerry Evans was the first customer to purchase been at Rebel Station. Just seconds after Rhonda and daughter Brooke inventoried the delivery and entered the items into the computer, Evans was asked for identification and the sale was rung up and completed. Evans, who has been a staunch supporter of the initiative, said, "I just think it's a historic moment for the people of Sharp County, whether you are for alcohol or against it. For the first time in 66 years, the money and the taxes are going to stay here in our community to give us a chance to be a more prosperous place and benefit from all the things that all these other places were getting that we weren't. The alcohol issue isn't going to change -- either you like it or you don't like it. The only difference is, the money is going to stay here instead of going somewhere else. We have worked and fought so hard to get it here." Evans has discussed the issue with many people who strongly oppose alcohol sales in the county and said, "I don't know what you would do to make people feel better who don't believe in alcohol. It is a moral issue, if it is amoral issue with you it isn't going to change if it is sold here or sold there. The only difference is the money stays here. That is pretty much the simplicity of it." Although he bought the first beer, Evans said he is not a big drinker, he just felt it was important to support the Rebel Station. He then laughed and said he had plenty of friends who do like to drink beer and will be supporting the Messer's business.
Walmart also now has a selection of beer in the store, but, according to Spokesman Rodney Hallmark, will not offer cooled been until the store is remodeled in April. Shoppers at the store appeared to have taken a liking to buying beer locally. Shoppers were seen loading their carts over the weekend, and conversations about the convenience of buying beer locally could be heard in the aisles.
The topic of alcohol sales, pro and con, are also being expressed on social networking sites, where it is either a love or hate relationship, often causing heated discussions as advocates were pleased with the tax implications and savings from avoiding long drives to other counties. Others with moral, religious and safety concerns were less than pleased, citing fears that high crime rates, more DWI arrests and underage purchases will result from alcohol sales. Regardless of the stance taken, the presence of beer and wine in the county will continue to increase throughout the year as full fledged liquor stores opened sometime in the late summer months.
Besides Walmart and Rebel Station, Hardy's Pig and Whistle Restaurant and Cherokee Village's Crispy Cone are now offering adult beverages, while many other businesses are still waiting for their permits to be approved.
The controversial issue came to head, after nearly five years of debate, when alcohol sales were passed by Sharp County voters in the Nov. 6 General Election. 3,884 voted for the county to become wet, with 3,456 voting against the initiative. For members of the recently dissolved non-profit group Save Energy Reap Taxes, (SERT) founded by environmentalist Ruth Reynolds, who does not even drink alcohol, Jan. 17, 2013 is a day that will always be remembered.