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Riverdale 10 theater in LR gains permit for beer, wine sales

by Glen Chase | September 18, 2014 at 2:24 a.m.

Theater owner Matt Smith won permission Wednesday to serve beer and wine at the Riverdale 10 Cinema in Little Rock after being closely questioned about how he'd prevent minors from obtaining alcohol during screenings.

The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board unanimously approved a permit for on-premises beer and wine sales after Smith and his attorney Stephen Morley outlined controls such as restricting the beverages to auditoriums showing films preferred by adults and making sure ushers and other employees are 21 or older.

Smith said his focus will continue to be offering foreign, art and documentary films that attract an older audience, typically 35 and older, and similar to his now closed Market Street Cinema on Merrill Drive in west Little Rock.

"We've worked toward developing a film culture in central Arkansas and throughout the state of Arkansas," Smith told the board.

While the focus will remain on independent films, Riverdale 10 will also occasionally offer first-run Hollywood films that draw younger patrons and families, he said.

Smith said he didn't want to offend patrons who might take their children to see family-themed films by allowing moviegoers to take beer or wine into an auditorium where such a film was being shown.

Other conditions include limiting patrons to no more than two drinks, restricting alcohol sales from 1-10 p.m. (except during preapproved special events), barring adult beverages from restrooms, and installing signs informing patrons where beer and wine can be consumed and that giving alcohol to minors is against the law. Also, patrons seeking to obtain alcohol will have to show their IDs before being served and wear armbands so ushers will know they're of age.

And, adult beverages will be allowed only in the eight smaller auditoriums at Riverdale 10. Smith said he'd seek approval for special events that might be held in the two larger auditoriums, which can seat 165 and 200 people.

The board eased one condition that Smith and Morley had initially agreed to adopt.

In discussions with the Alcoholic Beverage Control Administration Division and police, theater operator said he would bar underage patrons from entering auditoriums where adult patrons would be allowed to take their drinks.

Several board members wondered if that would pose too much of a burden on the theater, with some noting that other venues where alcohol is served don't face such restrictions.

Board member Jeff Mitchell of Fayetteville said such a restriction would bar 16- or 17-year-olds from going to a movie or a special event with their parents.

Smith told the board that while his Market Street location never had a similar rule, he'd never had a problem with underage drinking over the seven years he had a permit for that location. Smith closed the five-screen Market Street Cinema earlier this year and moved his operation to the larger, 10-screen Riverdale 10 in June. Since then, he has invested in new carpeting and a new concession area, as well as a new sound system and digital projectors.

Michael Langley, director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Administration Division, said the board wanted to give Smith a chance to succeed.

"They really accepted his business model," as opposed to a larger cinema, Langley said. "There are things in this theater that distinguish it from other theaters," including an older demographic, no stadium seating, a smaller size and no 3-D movies, which would attract younger adults.

"This is not a signal of a change" by the board toward generally allowing beer and wine in theaters, he said. "Each one will be taken on a case-by-case basis."

Only one other theater in Arkansas -- the Movie Lounge in Fort Smith -- has an on-premises beer and wine permit. Last year, the Regal McCain Mall Stadium 12 dropped its request for a permit after it was unable to resolve concerns about underage drinking.

The board praised Smith and Morley for their willingness to work with the Little Rock Police Department to resolve concerns about minors getting access to alcohol.

Little Rock Police Chief Kenton Buckner had objected to the permit over the potential for underage drinking. However, Sgt. Allen Hamby said the chief would drop his concerns under the conditions accepted by Smith with the understanding that "he'll be held to those conditions all the time."

After the meeting, Smith said he was pleased that he'll be able to continue offering beer and wine along with traditional movie snacks and soft drinks at his new location.

"It gives us the flexibility to move movies around," depending on the audience, Smith said about the conditions imposed by the board.

Business on 09/18/2014

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