Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is seeking a compromise after her proposal to institute a 10 p.m. cut off for liquor sales at stores was lambasted by the City Council and local business owners last month. The mayor issued a news release Tuesday afternoon proposing a midnight cut off for packaged goods. Lightfoot says her staff has consulted with community members and come to the conclusion that liquor sales is a threat to public safety that can lead to “serious nuisance issues.”
Last month, Lightfoot’s proposal came without warning prior to the May 26 council meeting, part of a series of actions that included extending the sale of to-go cocktails past the June 2 sunset date (Gov. J.B. Pritzker would sign an extension that goes through 2024).
Now the Chicago has lifted pandemic restrictions, liquor stores are free to continue sales until 2 a.m. on most days. Late-night sales are one thing that sets Chicago apart from other cities, and has encouraged tourism.
Lightfoot’s initial proposal, which prohibits sales from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., was discussed in private last year and when made public last month was met with an outpour of negative reactions from elected officials and store owners. Supporters pointed out that cutting off liquor sales earlier at stores could encourage customers to patronize bars, a sector in need of a boost after the pandemic halted on-premise service. But if groups loitering late night are a safety problem, drunken bar customers doesn’t seem to be a remedy; bars can still serve until 2 a.m. on most nights. Late-night bars can serve until 4 a.m.
The mayor is calling her midnight proposal “a reasonable compromise” and her staff cites that “on average there are over 50 calls per liquor store to 911 each year.” That stat, included in the news release, was presented without context — for example, it wasn’t mentioned if the calls happen past 10 p.m.
A trio of alderman were quoted in the release as supporting the mayor’s desire for an early cut off: Ald. (44th Ward) Tom Tunney, Ald. (37th Ward) Emma Mitts, and Ald. (46th Ward) James Cappleman. In a statement, Mitts says “late-night alcohol sales have long posed a problem in the 37th Ward and throughout the city.”
However, Ald. (42nd Ward) Brendan Reilly — his district covers River North — has been vocal about his opposition to cutting off liquor sales earlier. He says the move would hurt Chicago’s liquor stores and push business to the bordering suburbs. Reilly said the 10 p.m. proposal would never gain approval among his peers.
For those concerned: there will NOT be a 10PM liquor sales moratorium in Chicago. That is 100% dead on arrival at City Council. Either the Mayor pulls it or we kill it. That said, have a happy & safe Memorial Day Weekend! https://t.co/ORYoFt9Et7 pic.twitter.com/h0qmpGPpUR— Brendan Reilly (@AldReilly) May 29, 2021
The partners behind Juice @ 1340, a bar and liquor store in West Loop, don’t support the proposal, even though their on-premise business isn’t affected. Partner Derrick Westbrook, a Chicago native and sommelier who’s worked at Michelin-starred Elizabeth and other top restaurants, feels targeted and that he feels Lightfoot didn’t consult hospitality industry members in formulating the proposal: “You can tell certain types of people aren’t being represented,” Westbrook adds.
There are enough challenges for small (and Black-owned) businesses, and Lightfoot has decided to make it even more challenging, Westbrook also says.
The next City Council meeting is June 23.