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Midnight liquor sales curfew will get committee OK, but Council approval uncertain, alderman says

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s compromise plan is up for a vote in the License Committee on Thursday.

Beer on sale in a grocery-store cooler.
Sales of beer and other packaged liquor would have to end at midnight under a compromise plan now backed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who initially had proposed a 10 p.m. cutoff.
Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s revised plan to require liquor, grocery and convenience stores to cut off liquor sales at midnight has the votes to get through committee, but it’ll be touch and go on the City Council floor, an influential alderman said Wednesday.

“I’m sure of the votes through the License Committee. Let me say that much. I won’t be sure about the [full] Council,” where 26 votes are needed, License Committee Chairman Emma Mitts (37th) told the Sun-Times on the eve of Thursday’s committee vote.

The candid assessment was significant, considering the fact that Mitts is a chief proponent of the mayor’s midnight curfew and even supported Lightfoot’s original plan to cut off the citywide sale of liquor sold by stores licensed to sell “packaged goods” at 10 p.m.

In announcing that initial proposal, the mayor had said her goal in cutting back on late-night sales was to address “quality of life issues that sometimes creep up around these businesses,” pointing to loitering and “other illegal activity.”

Why not just use the tools the city already has to go after problem establishments?

“If you did just that, people are still gonna do what they’re doing,” Mitts said.

“If you were to close [at midnight] in areas where we have these problems, it will help. That’s from residents and what I hear them saying. They’re [opposed] to these liquor stores in the neighborhood that allow noise, hanging out around them all night long. They call the police. That’s not working.”

Earlier this week, Lightfoot rolled back her proposed 10 p.m. liquor moratorium.

The mayor announced the “compromise” she had reached with influential alderman and said it would be directly introduced to the License Committee on Thursday, when she hoped to pass it with the chairman’s help.

“We believe a midnight closure is a reasonable compromise that addresses the serious nuisance issues raised by late-night liquor sales without unduly burdening our business community,” Lightfoot was quoted as saying in a news release.

Aldermen from across the city had called the 10 p.m. closing time a non-starter, saying the city would be better off cracking down on problem businesses and not penalizing all of them as they struggle to get back on their feet.

It was clear that had Lightfoot continued to push the 10 p.m. moratorium, she was headed for her first Council defeat.

Beer on sale at an Aldi grocery store in Chicago in June 2017.
Liquor sales in retail stores would have to end at midnight under a proposal scheduled for a vote Thursday in a Chicago City Council committee.
Getty

Rob Karr, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, had hoped to land at “something far closer to their original licensure,” which is a 2 a.m. closing time.

But, Karr told the Sun-Times he was willing to swallow the proposed midnight curfew because it was two hours better than the mayor’s original version.

“We are OK with it. We’re neutral,” he said.

“Everybody would prefer that the licenses stay the same. But given the discussion that has occurred between us and [the city’s department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection] and aldermen, midnight is a workable solution.”

Karr said he has little doubt the proposed 10 p.m. curfew would have been rejected by the Council.

“That was seen as just too draconian. … Chicago wants to get back to what it once was. Chicago was a top tourist destination. With that comes night life. It’s a night city. You have to be realistic,” Karr said.

“Based on the data we’ve seen, it’s a small percentage of licensees that seems to be the problem. … There are a lot of tools available to them to crack down on those problem licensees.”

Pat Doerr, managing director of the Hospitality Business Association of Chicago, said he still hasn’t seen the language of Lightfoot’s compromise, so he still has questions.

“We still don’t understand how it would address combined stores … that hold tavern licenses and packaged good licenses,” Doerr said. “This could potentially be a huge windfall for them. They are stores, but they also deliver to homes. I don’t know if they would be able to continue that after midnight,” Doerr said.

Although the midnight curfew is “progress,” Doerr said, “It’s still offensive to Chicago’s many responsible retailers, many of whom were looted and are now trying to recover post-pandemic that [now] will have earlier sales curfews than many suburbs.”

He added: “We’re Chicago, a global city with a decades-long reputation for being an around-the-clock town. None of this should be passing. And none of this is Chicago.”