Naperville could clear downtown Walgreens to sell alcohol
Drinking-related crime concerns that drove Naperville to prohibit its downtown Walgreens from selling alcohol have subsided enough for the rule to be reconsidered.
Liquor commission members voted 4-2 Thursday to recommend the city council rescind a 2014 regulation that forbids the downtown pharmacy from selling packaged liquor. Earlier this week, several city council members voiced support for the same move, saying it was a mistake to put the business at a competitive disadvantage -- even during an outcry about excessive drinking affecting safety.
Police and city leaders say crime has quieted from a time of more frequent problems highlighted by a fatal stabbing in 2012 and two events in 2014, a large fight in the middle of the downtown's north/south thoroughfare and a DUI crash into a water-filled quarry that killed two people.
In fall 2014, the city council created stricter regulations on late-night bar entry, beer sizes, shot sales, drink specials and security training in response to crime concerns. At the same time, downtown bars started using a communication app to alert each other of unruly patrons.
"We were having some real issues with the downtown. There was some fighting and people who were clearly intoxicated hanging out in the street," city council member Judith Brodhead said. "Our thought was that we really didn't want to give people an easy way to buy packaged goods."
But around the same time, Walgreens sought creation of a new liquor license to allow pharmacies to sell alcohol. So nine Walgreens locations and one CVS were cleared to seek the new Class V pharmacy license, but the downtown location was left out.
In the meantime, police, downtown restaurant operators and council members have worked to create a calmer environment. Brodhead said a couple "bad actors" have closed, and Mayor and Liquor Commissioner Steve Chirico praised the bars that remain for managing their customers well.
"The downtown operators that we have today are running better operations than we had several years ago," Chirico said. "And the rule changes we put in place have had an impact as well."
Without the ability to sell alcohol during the peak of downtown crime, liquor commissioners said Thursday they can't blame Walgreens for past problems. Those who voted in favor of lifting the rule said they trust the company to sell alcohol safely and legally.
But the location of the Walgreens at 400 S. Main St. means now might not be the best time to extend it that permission, liquor commission member Scott Wehrli said. The shop is less than a block from five new bars and restaurants under construction as part of the Water Street District and not far from a couple of other new liquor license holders in the downtown.
Tighter drinking rules, a stronger enforcement focus and better business operators for the past two years have combined to produce a safer night scene, Wehrli said, but it's hard to tell if that will last.
"I really want to make sure the downtown is staying on the straight and narrow," he said. "We worked very hard for that."
The city council will make the final call on whether the downtown Walgreens can apply for a liquor license during a future meeting.