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River North Wal-Mart liquor license denial leads to suit

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has sued the city of Chicago after local officials denied the retail giant a liquor license for its store in the River North neighborhood.

Wal-Mart has been denied a liquor license for the store, a Wal-Mart Express located at 225 W. Chicago Ave. near the Chicago Brown Line stop, according to the suit. It was filed Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court, asking a judge to overturn the previous decisions.

The city’s Local Liquor Control Commission told Wal-Mart in a November 2011 letter that it felt alcohol sales in that area would create a “law enforcement problem.” The commission said the store is situated next to single-occupancy establishments and two Methadone clinics, places “that attract persons [...] who struggle with drug addictions, mental illness, and homelessness.”

Wal-Mart appealed that decision, but the city’s License Appeal Commission later upheld the denial.

A Wal-Mart spokesperson said in a phone interview Tuesday that the company is on the "right side of the issue."

“You don’t have to look too much further than a few blocks in any direction to see that there are other business in the community, including a Walgreens, currently selling alcohol,” said Steven Restivo, Senior Director of Communications for Wal-Mart.

A worker at that Walgreens location confirmed the store sells beer and wine, but not spirits. Restivo added that Wal-Mart has been “a responsible operator” at its other locations in Chicago that sell alcohol. Kathryn Ciesla, a Northbrook-based liquor licensing attorney, says the suit could be a way for Wal-Mart to tap into lucrative alcohol sales.

“I anticipate that Walmart has spent millions of dollars investing in this facility," Ciesla said "So my expectation is this means big bucks for Walmart.”

An official from the city’s law department refused to comment or give further details about the case Wednesday, saying the department has yet to be served a copy of the lawsuit.

Restivo said Wal-Mart has been in “constant communication” with city officials about the case.

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