CHICAGO — The controversial late-night ban of alcohol sales at grocery and liquor stores introduced by Mayor Lori Lightfoot is going nowhere in City Council, an alderman said, and more officials are pushing back on the measure.
Last week, Lightfoot proposed a package of reforms meant to help struggling businesses recover from the pandemic. Amid the proposal was a 10 p.m. curfew of beer, liquor and wine sales at stores with a “packaged goods license,” which would primarily be liquor, convenience and grocery stores.
The change would ban alcohol sales 10 p.m.-7 a.m. daily. It is similar to a temporary curfew that was created during the pandemic to discourage gathering, city officials said.
The proposal was instantly controversial — and it continues to face stiff resistance inside and outside City Council.
Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) declared the plan dead Saturday.
“For those concerned: There will NOT be a 10 p.m. liquor sales moratorium in Chicago. That is 100% dead on arrival at City Council,” Reilly tweeted. “Either the Mayor pulls it or we kill it. That said, have a happy and safe Memorial Day Weekend.”
Lightfoot and top city officials have defended the proposal while conceding they are open to negotiation.
At an unrelated event last week, Lightfoot said her administration was “willing to talk” about the proposal, but she held firm the curfew was needed, describing it as a “quality of life” issue.
“We will work with them to see where we can reach an accommodation, but they’ve got to step up and they’ve got to be better actors in these communities,” Lightfoot said. “No one should have to suffer because of liquor sales that stretch into the early morning hours that then become a real magnet for problems in neighborhoods.”
Rosa Escareno, the Business Affairs and Consumer Protection commissioner, told the Sun-Times the proposal was a “starting point,” not a “done deal.”
“I want to hear the businesses. I embrace what they’re telling me … . But we have to make the issues that our residents are bringing us … central to this conversation,” Escareno said.
Before Reilly declared the legislation a non-starter, he took a more measured tone Thursday, saying he hopes to “strike the right balance” on the measure in negotiations between City Council and Lightfoot.
“My preference would be to use our administrative tools to crack down on bad actors and hopefully, perhaps, negotiate on the closure hour,” he said.
Reilly did not immediately respond to a request to comment.
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) told Block Club the proposal caught aldermen off guard.
“I don’t know a single alderman who supports it, and I don’t know anyone who anticipated it or asked for it,” he said. “It came out of left field.
“I think there probably are some aldermen who have some liquor retailers that have been the source of problems and curtailing the hours that they sell alcohol could actually be a good solution in some of those cases, but you don’t need a citywide ban during those hours.”
Like Reilly, Hopkins said the issue could be addressed with tools already available to the city, and said he’d be willing to help other aldermen create a “streamlined solution” if needed to combat stores where “there’s a lot of gang activity, drug sales, things of that nature.”
“If the local alderperson wants to curtail the hours that they can sell alcohol, of course the other 49 of us would stand in support of that alderperson, I have no doubt about that,” he said.
The Mayor’s Office pointed Block Club to Lightfoot’s earlier comments when asked for comment.
Rob Karr, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said he spoke with the Mayor’s Office about the proposal Wednesday.
“Before we make any decisions or consider anything, we want to see the data,” Karr said. “We just need to understand what’s driving this. Whether it’s crime, and they indicated today that maybe it wasn’t so much crime but it was quality of living, noise or loitering. OK, well we still want to see what’s happening and where.”
Other industry experts said the proposal seems an overly broad tactic to address a narrow problem.
“My impression is this is becoming an enormous distraction from the business and licensing reforms that are the other 93 pages of that ordinance,” said Pat Doerr, managing director of the Hospitality Business Association of Chicago.
Doerr pointed to a provision in the Illinois Liquor Control Act that allows individual city precincts to prohibit alcohol sales through a hyperlocal referendum, saying it allows for a “way more targeted” approach to permanently close problem stores than an “across the board, Wheaton-style 10 p.m. curfew.”
Doerr said he’s “cautiously optimistic targeted enforcement will be the end of this discussion rather than suburban-style liquor laws.”
“You can’t kneecap a whole industry of mostly independent small businesses, often immigrant-owned, because of anecdotal concerns about quality of life,” he said.
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