Chicago grocery and convenience stores would have to stop selling booze at 10 p.m. under a permanent curfew included in a sweeping pandemic relief package unveiled by Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday.
The ordinance would ban sales of packaged liquor products between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. every day except Sunday, when they’d start at 8 a.m. The proposal would effectively bring an end to the days of liquor stores remaining open into the early morning hours, though sales would begin several hours earlier on Sundays.
Some Chicagoans slammed the changes.
Ali Thabet, owner of Ashland Market in Noble Square, said the plan feels like a “low blow” to liquor stores that have struggled through the pandemic. Should it pass the City Council, Thabet said he would likely have to cut staff.
“It’s going to drive all the business out of Chicago and just kill smaller businesses,” he said of the plan. “It will hurt us for the long run.”
Ashland Market currently stays open until 11 p.m., the cutoff for stores’ selling packaged alcohol under eased pandemic restriction announced in March. Lightfoot initially set a 9 p.m. curfew as the coronavirus outbreak took hold last April. But with the city now reopening and the weather heating up, Thabet would like to keep his doors open much longer every day.
“This is the time of year that you want to stay open as late as you can,” he said.
At a news conference after Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Lightfoot said there’s “room for discussion” about the proposal but raised concerns about “quality of life issues that sometimes creep up around these businesses,” pointing to loitering and “other illegal activity.”
“We expect that there will be a robust debate and discussion, but there’s a real issue that absolutely can’t be ignored,” she said.
Thabet scoffed at Lightfoot’s rationale, saying, “The city has much more problems than a liquor store being opened until 1 or 2 a.m. Crime is all over and she wants to focus on this matter.”
Ultimately, Thabet said he hopes members of the City Council will block the mayor’s “outrageous move.” If not, he anticipates proprietors will band together and potentially file lawsuits.
Before the pandemic, Chicago liquor stores were allowed to sell packaged alcohol until 2 a.m. Sunday through Friday and until 3 a.m. Saturday. The city also allowed stores to start sales at 7 a.m. every day except Sunday, when sales weren’t allowed to begin until 11 a.m.
The proposed rules would permanently move up the curfew for liquor sales in Chicago by at least four hours from where it stood prior to the pandemic. They were included in a 94-page ordinance that touches on everything from financial and regulatory relief for businesses, protections for consumers and new job opportunities for ex-offenders.
The ordinance was co-sponsored by Alds. George Cardenas (12th), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Emma Mitts (37th) and James Cappleman (46th). Amid a chorus of criticism on Twitter, Cappleman took to the platform Wednesday afternoon and said the provision affecting liquor sales at stores “was supposed to have already been removed.”
“It will be removed before it goes for a vote,” he tweeted. “The goal is to help our businesses, not hurt them.”
The ordinance would also permanently allow bars and restaurants to sell cocktails to go, a practice that started during the pandemic. Given that proposal, Rob Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said the city is sending a “contradictory message” and seemingly treating store owners as “second-class license holders.”
In addition, Karr noted there’s “no data” to support the mayor tying the proposal to crime around “troublesome liquor stores.” What’s more, he said that explanation calls into question the city’s initial reasoning for limiting liquor sales earlier in the pandemic, when Lightfoot tied the move to public health concerns over large groups congregating outside stores.
“It certainly draws into question whether that was really the concern,” he said. “We cooperated with that concern under the belief that we would go back to normal. But we got back to normal and here we are.”
Contributing: Zinya Salfiti