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story.lead_photo.caption The exterior of Riverdale 10 Cinema in Little Rock, 2600 Cantrell Road - Photo by Brandon Riddle

Patrons of the Riverdale 10 Cinema in Little Rock can now take their beer and alcohol to the restroom with them, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board voted unanimously Wednesday in relaxing restrictions in the theater's permit.

The board granted all of the requests from Riverdale 10 Cinema owner James Smith, including employing workers under 21 years of age and expanding the beer-and-alcohol-serving hours.

The changes are vital to put the cinema on an even playing field with other beer- and alcohol-serving theaters in the state, Smith said. Riverdale 10 was the second movie theater in Arkansas to begin serving beer and wine to moviegoers when the permit was first issued in 2014. The first was the now-defunct Movie Lounge in Fort Smith.

Other state movie theaters -- such as Chenal 9, the Movie Tavern and Cinemark Rave, all in Little Rock -- obtained permits more recently, and the rules were much more relaxed than they were for Riverdale 10.

The newer theaters' permits allow them to hire staff members of all ages while Riverdale 10 was limited to employees 21 and older. The other theaters also are not required to post signs prohibiting beer or alcohol in the restrooms, and they have wider serving-time windows.

"I would just like to get on the same page as the other people in town who have this program," Smith told the board. "I just wanted to be treated the same way they are."

Smith said he's fielded numerous complaints about the signs required outside restrooms that prohibit patrons from taking their drinks inside. Instead, a small table outside the doors is provided where drinkers can leave their cups.

One woman posted a picture of the sign and table on social media with the words: "Oh wow! This is great. Leave my drink here? Good way to get roofied" and tagged the theater, Smith said. A "roofie" is slang for Rohypnol, a sedative that is commonly referred to as the "date-rape drug" because of numerous sexual-assault cases where it was slipped into drinks without the person's knowledge.

Commissioner Freddy Black said he could speak to the inconvenience of the restroom prohibition.

"I don't pass a bathroom now that I don't go in," Black said. "You buy a beer when you get to the movies, then you go to the bathroom before you go sit down."

The board's approval of expanding the theater's drinking hours will enable the theater to better serve its patrons, Smith said. Currently, beer and alcohol is served from 11 a.m. until midnight. Wednesday's decision expanded the hours to begin at 7 a.m. and continue until 1 a.m. the next morning.

The theater has show times as early as 9 a.m. on weekends, and moviegoers are dismayed when they're denied alcohol, Smith said.

"They ask for wine or beer, and they don't understand why they can't purchase that," Smith said.

Smith also told the board that not being able to hire someone under the age of 21 makes it difficult to fill jobs such as cleaning the theater, tearing tickets at the usher stand, popping popcorn or selling tickets, Smith said.

"It restricts heavily our employment pool because people in that age group -- the under-21 age group -- that's who applies to work with us," Smith said.

The board's approval of allowing Smith to hire younger workers came with the caveat that beer and alcohol can be sold only at registers designated solely for operation by employees of legal drinking age.

Smith's attorney, Stephen Morley of North Little Rock, pointed out that Riverdale 10 has been cited only once since the permit was issued four years ago and that Smith has taken steps to ensure the violation was not repeated.

The movie theater was fined $300 and placed on six months of probation after two undercover officers with the Little Rock Police Department vice detail purchased two drinks -- which is the limit for a theater visit -- on July 21, 2017. One officer went to the lobby, placed the two drinks on a table, ripped off his wristband indicating he had purchased the maximum number of alcoholic beverages, then was served two more drinks at the concession counter.

Both detectives were allowed to enter the restroom with their drinks. Another officer was served beer after the 10 p.m. cutoff time and later exited the theater with a beer in his hand.

Smith told the board Wednesday that precautions were immediately put into place to avoid any future violations. In addition to the paper wristband indicating the drinker is of legal age, the hands of patrons are stamped each time they order alcoholic drinks.

"We tightened up our way of doing things," Smith said.

Metro on 07/12/2018

Print Headline: Theater's limits on alcohol eased

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