Ask any small business owner in Chicago how things are going and you might get an earful of complaints.
The city is making them pay higher wages. The city hits them up for all kinds of fees and licenses. The city is kicking up taxes on the sale of cigarettes and booze.
A lot of this stuff is necessary. Sorry, but it is.
A “sin tax” on cigarettes or booze, for example, is a better way to raise revenue for city services than another dreaded property tax increase. But the aim should always be to make things no more burdensome on local businesses than absolutely necessary.
Which gets us to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposal, which her administration backed away from a bit on Thursday — calling it a “starting point” for discussions — to shut down liquor sales after 10 p.m. at grocery and convenience stores.
What’s that all about?
The mayor’s proposal, if left unaltered, stands out like a sore thumb in an otherwise fairly pro-business pandemic relief initiative, “Chi Biz Strong,” introduced in the City Council on Wednesday.
The proposed liquor sales curfew, Lightfoot initially said, is a direct response to concerns about “quality of life issues that sometimes creep up around these businesses.” She pointed to loitering and “other illegal activity” outside and near package liquor and convenience stores.
But is there real evidence that this, in any substantial way, is a serious source of Chicago’s crime problems?
The city has plenty of powerful ways to crack down on establishments that invite or tolerate disorderly gatherings. City Hall can strip a store of its liquor license. The police can patrol an area more frequently and make arrests. Nothing puts a chill on things like a squad car nearby.
Crack down on the bad actors. But don’t punish the dozens or hundreds of small businesses just trying to make ends meet.
Lightfoot said her package of pandemic relief proposals is not just her “administration’s vision for Chicago’s recovery” but also the vision of “employees and our employers.”
But we’re not so sure how many employees or employers (or customers, for that matter) are keen on shutting down liquor sales for an extra two or three hours a day. That can mean less money coming in, which means fewer jobs that can be supported. Retailers told the Sun-Times it could put them out of business.
Ald. James Cappleman (46th) wrote on Twitter this week that the 10 p.m. curfew on liquor sales was “supposed” to have been struck from the ordinance. And it will be, he said, before the measure goes to a vote.
We hope that is true.
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