On second attempt, earlier Sunday liquor sales get committee OK

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader tried again Wednesday to extend the hours of Sunday liquor sales in Chicago — and succeeded by appeasing colleagues concerned about exacerbating an outdoor drinking problem that creates a breeding ground for other crime.

Three months ago, an avalanche of opposition forced Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th) back to the drawing board to soften his plan to allow “package goods liquor” to be sold at 8 a.m on Sunday, instead of at 11 a.m.

African-American aldermen were concerned that selling booze at 8 a.m. Sunday would lead to more drinking, more standing around outside those stores and more crime.

On Wednesday, the City Council’s License Committee approved a new version that narrows the focus.

Liquor sales could begin 8 a.m. on Sunday only at “supermarkets,” defined as stores with “not less than 10,000 square feet of floor space” that sell a “variety of food and household products,” including fruits, vegetables, meat and poultry. To qualify for early liquor sales, stores must also devote 25 percent of their floor area to retail sales other than alcohol.

Those changes were enough to persuade African-American aldermen who had raised the biggest concerns in January to go along with O’Connor’s plan this time.

License Committee Chairman Emma Mitts (37th) went so far as to call it a “great win for us” on the West Side.

“The pastors in the community and the 37th Ward Alliance want to say, `Thank you’ for looking at this issue because … it would not just affect the North Side. It was going to affect the West and the South Side, and that’s predominantly where shootings [and] alcoholism are destroying our community … along with the drugs,” Mitts said.

“This will help businesses stay in play and service the ones who are going to, perhaps, do the right thing. I’m happy to be a part of making this happen for all of Chicago and not just for big retailers who are looking to do business and destroying our community in doing so.”

O’Connor’s decision to soften the ordinance follows an unseasonably warm and beautiful, but bloody, Easter weekend that saw eight people killed and 37 wounded in shootings. That generated another round of unflattering headlines about Chicago violence that has spawned the ugly label “Chiraq.”

“For bigger stores that sell predominantly groceries, this might be an acceptable idea. But for the smaller convenience-type stores or pure liquor stores, this was not something that a lot of people were interested in,” O’Connor said.

As for the persistent concerns about crime, O’Connor said, “Neighborhoods have the ability to work with the local community and the Police Department to police bad businesses. And a bad business that’s a bad business at 8 o’clock on a Sunday is probably a bad business at 11 o’clock or 12 o’clock on a Sunday.”

The change stemmed from O’Connor’s efforts to lure a new grocer into the site of a now-shuttered Dominick’s on Lincoln just north of Foster.

When he was trying to find a replacement, the mayor’s floor leader said he ended up “getting a primer on how grocery stores make money and don’t make money and this came up. If they’re leaving revenue on the table and they could make more money from something so simple, it’s worth looking at,” he has said.

Over the years, the City Council has steadily loosened the city’s grip on Sunday liquor sales.

In 2004, aldermen agreed to roll back Sunday liquor sales — from 11 a.m. to 10 a.m. to accommodate Sunday brunch. Package liquor stores were excluded amid concern the stores would serve up a liquor brunch of six packs and booze.

Two years later, the Sunday liquor law was relaxed again, this time to let Chicagoans start shopping for booze for their Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve parties at 8 a.m. instead of 11 a.m. The change was made to accommodate the calendar. Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve fell on Sunday that year.

In 2011, patrons of dozens of outdoor patios and rooftop gardens in downtown Chicago were allowed to indulge until midnight, instead of 11 p.m.

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