The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

City Council Allows Beer and Wine Sales in Grocery Stores

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After extended discussion and four successful amendments, the Carbondale City Council approved an ordinance allowing grocery stores to sell beer and wine. Council members Corene McDaniel and Chris Wissmann voted against the ordinance; council members Jane Adams, Lee Fronabarger, Don Monty, and Mayor Joel Fritzler supported the ordinance.

In other business, the council approved an ordinance specifically allowing council members to hold Class A liquor licenses provided that members holding licences not discuss liquor issues or serve on the liquor control commission. Council also approved an application allowing PK’s to build a beer garden in the alley south of the building.

The grocery store ordinance was the major business and discussion of it consumed nearly two hours. Discussion began with an ordinance proposed by Councilman Monty establishing a new class of licenses (C-2) available only to grocery stores and featuring several differences from the licenses held by most package liquor stores. The original ordinance (pdf) is on the city’s website. Councilman Lance Jack, who has a liquor license for his restaurant, did not participate in the discussion and excused himself from the council table to avoid any conflict.

In short, the original ordinance defined the term “grocery store,” set specific hours during which beer and wine could be sold, set a minimum age for cashiers at registers selling beer and wine, eliminated the “opaque wall and separate entrance” requirement for class C-2 licensees, and eliminated the prohibition on selling beer, wine, and liquor south of Pleasant Hill Road. The original ordinance also set a minimum distance for beer and wine sales of 200 feet from gasoline facilities on the same premises as a grocery store (think Kroger).

When discussion began, Councilman Monty proposed an amendment ¬†reducing the minimum age of cashiers from 21 to 19 and changing the minimum distance from gasoline facilities to 250 feet. I’m calling this Monty Amendment 1. It passed on a 4-2 vote with Fronabarger and McDaniel opposing it. Fronabarger said he opposed the amendment because he favors completely eliminating the restriction regulating distance from gasoline sales.

Councilwoman Jane Adams offered the next amendment, which was a comprehensive package of changes. Adams’s amendment would would have allowed grocery stores to sell spirits, would have set the same hours for alcohol sales in grocery stores as for sales in package liquor stores, and would have eliminated caps on all Class C licenses (including package liquor stores). This amendment failed by a 4-2 vote, with only Adams and Fronabarger supporting it. I’ll briefly comment on this amendment at the end of the post.

Councilman Wissmann offered three amendments in succession. Wissmann Amendment 1 set the license fee for a Class C-2 license at $2,250, which is the same as the fee for a Class C-1 license. The amendment passed on a 4-2 vote, with Adams and Fronabarger opposing.

Wissmann Amendment 2 would have capped the available number of Class C-2 licenses at four. The amendment failed, with only Wissmann and McDaniel supporting it. Wissmann Amendment 3 would have required establishments holding a Class C-2 license to have an opaque wall with a separate entrance separating beer and wine sales from other groceries. This amendment also failed, again with Wissmann and McDaniel as the only supporters.

Councilman Fronabarger proposed an amendment changing the hours during which beer and wine can be sold by Class C-2 licensees. The amendment allowed beer and wine sales between 7:00 a.m and 11:59 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and between 11:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. on Sundays. The amendment passed 4-2 with McDaniel and Wissmann opposed.

Next came council discussion, during which Councilman Wissmann again said that class C-2 licenses should be capped and asked that council consider what would be an appropriate number. Councilman Don Monty suggested a cap of 8 licenses, and proposed Monty Amendment 2 setting that cap. The amendment passed 4-2 with Adams and Fritzler opposed.

Next came public comment, which led to another amendment. A local liquor store owner asked how a “grocery store” would be defined, and why there isn’t a minimum sales requirement like the requirement on Class A licenses that 51% of sales come from food. Councilman Wissmann proposed Wissmann Amendment 4, which would have required that “grocery stores” derive 51% of their sales from food, excluding beer and wine. The amendment failed 4-2, with Wissmann and McDaniel supporting it.

Finally, the amended ordinance came up for a vote. To clarify, the vote was for the original proposal + Monty Amendment 1 + Wissmann Amendment 1 + Fronabarger Amendment + Monty Amendment 2. The motion passed 4-2 with Wissmann and McDaniel opposed.

I thought the meeting went very well. Council members kept their tempers in check and remained respectful. The problems with parliamentary procedure that have plagued recent meetings were largely absent. The council got its work done and approved a major change to our liquor code that the overwhelming majority of Carbondale residents support. That’s what we expect from public officials, and that’s what they did.

The entire council deserves praise, but I want to single out Mayor Joel Fritzler for a little extra attention. I’ve been critical of Fritzler in some recent posts, but he really rose to the occasion Tuesday night. For the first time, I really thought he seemed like the mayor I hoped he’d be when I voted for him earlier this year. Fritzler was confident, he chaired the meeting effectively through a fairly complex process of repeated comment and amendment, and he treated everyone with respect. This is exactly what I like to see, and I’m glad Fritzler is finding his footing.

I also want to comment briefly about the Adams amendment. I think it was good policy, and I think it’s possible that it could pass at a future meeting. As I saw it, the issue this time was insufficient time to consider a fairly complex amendment to an already complex set of changes. Adams mentioned at the meeting that the Liquor Advisory Board would consider the proposal at its next meeting. The City Attorney will also review the proposal in greater detail.

In my view, there is no reason to forbid grocery stores from selling spirits in addition to beer and wine. There is also no reason that grocery stores should have to stop selling alcohol earlier in the evening than package liquor stores. These are common sense changes that might pass in the future.

Looking at the votes tonight, it seems to me that Adams, Fronabarger, and Fritzler would likely support these proposals given sufficient time to review them. Jack can’t vote on liquor issues, and Wissmann and McDaniel are opposed. That makes Don Monty the swing vote. I can’t predict how he’d vote on these changes. Given time to consider them, it’s at least possible that he’d support them. I hope Adams will bring the changes up at a future meeting.

I want to offer one other comment. I agree with Councilman Fronabarger that we should eliminate the restriction preventing convenience stores and gas stations from selling alcohol. It really doesn’t make any sense to keep that prohibition in place. Customers drive to liquor stores, and they drive to grocery stores. There’s nothing about a gas station that makes liquor sales inherently unsafe or inappropriate.

When regulations make sense, we should keep them. When they don’t, we should get rid of them. Bad regulations discredit good regulations. The prohibition on alcohol sales at gas stations and convenience stores is a bad regulation and we ought to scrap it.

Comments are welcome.

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