When Dawn Humer transformed her St. Charles lunch cafe into a tropical-themed bar in 2008, she saw it as an establishment that would offer an escape for people during harsh economic times.
On Monday night, Humer searched for an escape from an economic hardship of her own and failed.
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Humer faces a big bill from the city if she wants to renew her liquor license this year. On May 1, all businesses wanting a liquor license will be treated the same, regardless of size or any prior history of problematic patrons and police activity.
Right now, Humer's license allows her to pay the city $1,600 a year and stay open until 2 a.m. With the change, she will pay $3,500 if she wants to keep that closing time. Humer's business is 500 square feet with 26 seats.
Most of the large taverns in the city pay $2,600 to stay open until 2 a.m. They will also pay $3,500 come May 1. The city will see Dawn's Beach Hut as no different from the large taverns.
Humer believes that's inherently unfair. For one, she hasn't called the police or violated the terms of her liquor license in the entire existence of her business.
A big reason city officials raised the price on 2 a.m. closing times, and created revocable permits instead of licenses, was to curb rowdy bar activity. The establishment of the new laws wipe the slates clean for all businesses.
"The large bars around me are getting a 35 percent increase, while I'm getting a 120 percent increase," Humer told aldermen.
"I can't afford it. And I need to be open until 2 a.m. I cannot do without that extra income. I'm fighting for my life here."
Aldermen commended Humer for her clean track record. And they sympathized with her problem. But none of them felt Humer should be an exception to the new rules.
Alderman Rita Payleitner, also a member of the city's new liquor commission, said Humer should have spoken up sooner before the council locked in the new rules.
"There were agendas posted, and nobody came," Payleitner said. "Part of running a business is knowing what's going on. I'm brokenhearted that we're hearing about this after the fact. But we can't be responsible for you now knowing about it."
Humer said that with such a small business, which she also tends bar at, she can't afford to close down every time the city has a discussion about liquor licenses.
"I'm very disappointed in the result of this meeting," Humer said.
She also inquired about the ability to pay for the new 2 a.m. license in installments rather than a lump sum.
Mayor Ray Rogina, who is also the city's official liquor commissioner, said he would help Humer consider her options.
"With all due respect to your good record, we're trying to put everyone on the same playing field," Rogina said.
Rogina met with Humer in private after the meeting to discuss her options.