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Whiskey bottles are displayed for sale in a grocery store.

Whiskey bottles are displayed for sale in a grocery store. Chicago’s pandemic-induced liquor store sales curfew could become permanent under a sweeping set of changes proposed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Mark Schiefelbein

Liquor Store Sales Curfew Plan Worries Some Businesses And Chicago Aldermen

Chicago’s pandemic-induced liquor store sales curfew could become permanent under a sweeping set of changes to city law proposed yesterday by Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

But she’ll need the votes to make it happen, and several aldermen and some local liquor store owners aren’t on board with the mayor’s desired 10 p.m. closing time.

“It’s going to send that business to the suburbs,” said downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd Ward. “By cutting off sales at 10 p.m., people will drive a few miles from Beverly to Evergreen Park across the border, and buy these things there, and that deprives the city of sales tax revenue, liquor revenue and jobs.”

At the start of the pandemic, Lightfoot cut off liquor store sales at 9 p.m. and eased that to 11 p.m. last fall. Before COVID-19, liquor stores could sell booze until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. and were restricted from selling alcohol on Sunday mornings.

Now, the mayor is defending the proposal to permanently end late-night liquor sales as a “quality of life” issue and doubled down on a claim that stores that sell booze late at night attract bad behavior and crime.

“We were seeing improper gatherings that pose a public health risk,” Lightfoot said Thursday. “We were seeing other problems that resulted in calls for police service around these package liquor stores.”

Tanya Triche Dawood, Vice President and General Counsel with the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, wants more evidence that there’s a link between late-night liquor sales and crime.

“How do we know that liquor stores or convenience stores are the cause of these issues?” Triche Dawood said. “You can’t make anecdotes and claim them as facts if you want to make a change this drastic to a person’s business license.”

Triche Dawood said the city is treating liquor store and convenience store owners as “second class citizen business license holders” and raised concerns that the liquor curfew punishes one portion of the industry, while “gifting” another. Lightfoot’s proposal would allow bars to remain open late and permanently allow them to sell cocktails-to-go, a move implemented during the pandemic.

Eddie Rayan runs Rayan’s Fine Wine & Spirits, a family business on the corner of Wilson and Clark in Uptown that’s been open since 1972. He is not bothered by the curfew and won’t be impacted if Lightfoot’s plan is approved by City Council.

“The 10pm curfew is good for many reasons,” Rayan said. “It’s safer, it’s easier for the business owners, and people have become accustomed to getting their booze earlier in the day and planning ahead.”

Rayan’s closes at 10 p.m. every day, even though the current pandemic-induced curfew is 11 p.m. Before the pandemic, Rayan’s was open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, but closed at 11 p.m. during the week.

“It’s a different world now, things have changed and the landscape has changed, and I feel like after nine o’clock business dies anyway, so staying open for that long of a period of time, it’s just not worth it for the business,” Rayan said.

Rayan said his workers don’t feel safe working late at night and it’s not worth the payroll and overhead.

Motea Nasser is the manager of Division Street Liquors on the corner of Wood St. and Division in Wicker Park.

“I don’t know how much money we lost, but I would say, 30%, from what we used to make before the pandemic,” Nasser said.

Before the pandemic, Division Street Liquors stayed open until 1 a.m. during the week, and until 2 a.m. on Saturdays and midnight on Sundays. Nasser said they were looking forward to going back to their normal hours around Fourth of July. He questioned why bars would get to stay open, but liquor stores would not.

“People can get a drink in the bar, but can’t get a drink from the liquor store?” Nasser said. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

Reilly said it should be a decision left to business owners, especially as they work to recover from a “horrendous” year.

“I don’t think we necessarily need to have liquor sales at two and three in the morning, but 10 p.m. does seem awfully early to me,” Reilly said.

The liquor sales curfew is just one of dozens of changes Lightfoot is proposing to the city’s laws governing businesses and workers.

“There are a lot of things going on in her reform package and this is one of the objectionable pieces,” said Reilly. “I can’t speak to whether this is one of those bargaining chips or not, but I can tell you this particular component of the plan has not been well received by my colleagues.”

Ald. Rosanna Rodriguez Sanchez tweeted a short response: “Nope.”

Ald. Andre Vasquez drew a link between the proposal and the small-town law that served as a backdrop for the 1984 classic Footloose.

Even Ald. James Cappleman, 46th Ward, a co-sponsor of the mayor’s proposed changes, tweeted to a constituent that the liquor store sales curfew was supposed to be removed. He indicated it will now be debated since some aldermen wanted to keep it in.

In his regular newsletter, Cappleman said he supports a midnight liquor sales curfew.

Claudia Morell, Becky Vevea, and Mariah Woelfel cover city politics for WBEZ. Follow them on Twitter @claudiamorell, @mariahwoelfel and @beckyvevea.

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