The city of Chicago is considering permanently restricting customers from buying alcohol at stores after 10 p.m. The move, part of a series of proposals the City Council considered at its Wednesday meeting, would be a major one for Chicago, a city where consumers (at least before the pandemic) could purchase liquor from corner stores well past midnight.
Before the pandemic, stores could sell until 2 a.m. most days, and until 3 a.m. on Sunday. On Wednesday morning, Mayor Lori Lightfoot presented a 94-page ordinance to the City Council that included the the 10 p.m. restriction, in addition to provisions to make to-go cocktails permanently legal and extend the city’s 15 percent cap on third-party delivery fees charged to restaurants. Council members blocked the ordinance so it could be reworked and possibly voted on at future meetings.
Nonetheless, the proposed ordinance created a mighty buzz as residents questioned why the mayor would quietly introduce the measure without public discourse. A news release from the city that trumpeted other aspects of the proposed ordinance made no mention of the liquor sales restriction.
Chicago first rolled back hours on liquor sales in April 2020, as Lightfoot said she sought to prevent residents from gathering outside during the height of the pandemic. Sales were curbed to 9 p.m., with the city eventually loosening the “buying curfew” to 10 p.m. and then 11 p.m., which is the current rule. The city has considered making an earlier curfew permanent since June 2020, according to an email chain sent by a group of city officials.
The new proposal would ban off-premise liquor sales from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday at all stores. Bars and restaurants could serve on-premise customers as normal, and supermarkets would be able to sell alcohol starting at 8 a.m. Sunday. The ordinance would also affect the sales of growlers and to-go cocktails.
Lightfoot and her staff say limiting hours for liquor sales is a matter of public safety in Chicago — a city where violence, including gun crimes, is a major topic.
“The late night sale of package goods liquor has been a contributing factor in public safety disturbances and has had a notable impact on the quality of life in Chicago neighborhoods,” the proposal reads. “The mitigation of late night sales of package goods has led to a reduction in violence and other concerning incidents.”
News of the proposal surprised Mike Moreno Jr. of Moreno’s Liquors in Little Village. Even though the buying curfew hurt his business last year, he understood the need during a public health crisis that impacted his community severely: “We were perfectly fine with doing our part,” he says.
Now, Moreno says, public safety and the pandemic seem like excuses for Lightfoot and city to push through restrictions they were already planning. He’s not sure it helps the public good, and it feels like it targets minority communities.
“I can’t say with 100 percent [certainty], but if there are problematic areas, and problematic stores, they should be reaching out or trying to figure out how to stop specific stores... they shouldn’t affect the entire economy.”
Moreno’s Liquor is a 44-year-old family-owned business, and Moreno says small business will be most affected by a permanent buying curfew: Chains like Binny’s aren’t open late, and many independent stores thrive on late-night sales. Losing those extra hours could leave the market vulnerable to new competition; Moreno envisions an out-of-state chain like Maryland-based Total Wines seeing an opportunity to enter the market.
Along those same lines, critics of the proposed 10 p.m. limit say it would push customers to shop at neighboring suburbs like Cicero and Berwyn. It might also dissuade tourists, who flock to Chicago knowing they can drink late night. Moreno points out that more restrictive liquor laws would put the city more in line with conservative policies in Wisconsin or Utah, the latter of which is known for its restrictive liquor laws, including low-alcohol beers.
“How many people do you know go to Salt Lake City in Utah for drinks or to go out?” Moreno says. “None.”
Though most Chicagoans who enjoy the city’s nightlife were apoplectic about the proposal — especially on social media — Logan Square business owner Esam Hani sees a few positives. Hani owns liquor stores, bars, and restaurants and says the restriction could push business toward his bars and restaurants like Cafe Con Leche and the Harding Tavern, and doesn’t predict a huge impact at his store, Red Star Liquors. He also feels the law will allow him to send his workers home at an earlier hour.
“It will make the streets safer throughout the city, I think,” Hani says.