Whole Foods in Vernon Hills wants to allow drinks while shopping

Carts in Vernon Hills' newest grocery store will be equipped with drink holders so shoppers can enjoy an adult beverage while browsing the aisles.

A practice called "sip and shop" is important, representatives from Whole Foods Market say, to add to the customer experience in a changing retail landscape.

The 44,828-square-foot store is expected to open Oct. 3 as the retail anchor of the long-awaited Mellody Farm development.

Whole Foods is seeking a license to sell beer, wine and spirits as well as an amendment to the liquor ordinance to allow the "sip and shop" experience. Current requirements - created in 2007 for Mariano's - limits consumption of alcohol to designated seating areas.

"We're trying to rejuvenate the shopping experience," Christine Sturch, Whole Foods' design coordinator for the Midwest, explained Tuesday during a village board work session.

"Part of our quality standards are creating a fun shopping experience, and this is getting harder and harder to do in this retail environment where brick and mortar stores are going away and more people are doing online shopping and not having this in-store shopping experience," she said.

"Sip and shop" is available in 12 of 24 Illinois stores and is sought in all new ones, she said. Eight are in Chicago as well as Park Ridge, Elmhurst, Willowbrook and Evanston, according to information presented to the village board.

As proposed, shoppers would buy the beverages from a bar area within the store and could drink them in a designated seating area, an enclosed exterior patio or while shopping. Trained staff members would monitor and control the purchases and consumption.

No limit is set on the number of drinks, but Whole Foods doesn't anticipate customers having multiple rounds, whether sitting or shopping with a drink, Building Commissioner Mike Atkinson said.

All alcohol would be served in "proper glasses" and patrons couldn't carry bottles, trustees were told. Beverage holders would be located throughout the store to allow patrons to store their empty glasses without having to return to the bar area.

Police Chief Patrick Kreis said he spoke with chiefs in Northbrook, Evanston and Elmhurst where "sip and shop" is available.

"They all reported to me this has been a nonissue," he said. "It's not an environment that attracts people who will over consume or cause problems. I don't see it as a public safety challenge."

Trustees informally agreed with the idea and directed the village staff to prepare an ordinance for their approval.

"All things considered, in this brave new world of retailing we're engaging in, it's probably not a bad thing," Trustee Jim Schultz said.

A rendering of the bar area planned for the new Whole Foods Market being built in Vernon Hills. Courtesy of Village of Vernon Hills
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