'Wine crawl' with 25 stops prompts concerns about St. Charles' downtown image

  • Main Street Libertyville created a "Wine Down Winter" event that's seen success for more than a decade in highlighting local businesses like Shakou Shushi. Now Shakou Sushi wants to copy that success by bringing a version to its St. Charles location.

    Main Street Libertyville created a "Wine Down Winter" event that's seen success for more than a decade in highlighting local businesses like Shakou Shushi. Now Shakou Sushi wants to copy that success by bringing a version to its St. Charles location. Daily Herald File Photo, 2013

 
 
Updated 12/22/2016 11:51 AM

A "wine crawl" that would be hosted by one of the hottest restaurants in America could become a new showcase for downtown St. Charles. But the potential for participants consuming a full bottle of wine has some aldermen looking to scale back the initial aspirations of the event.

Shakou Sushi was among OpenTable's "100 Hottest Restaurants in America for 2016." The Libertyville location of the restaurant hosts a "Wine Down Winter" event that drew 1,100 participants after more than doubling in size after its first function. Co-owner Ed Hartigan wants to create a St. Charles version of the event on March 4.

 

The idea is to find 25 non-restaurant businesses to act as host locations. The establishments would all be within walking distance of each other. At each location, participants would receive a 1-ounce sample of wine. The businesses will supply finger foods. Hartigan will market the event to non-St. Charles residents in hopes of increasing awareness and business traffic in the city.

But 1 ounce of wine at 25 locations adds up to an entire bottle if a participant completes the full circuit. St. Charles officials worked hard in the past few years to alter any image of the city being a rowdy "bar town." Aldermen, particularly those who also sit on the city's liquor commission, have been leery of any alcohol-related activity that could work to reverse what's become a calmer downtown.

"My concerns are that it is too many stops," said Alderman and liquor Commissioner Maureen Lewis. "Twenty-five locations in those several square blocks seems a little too much. The (police) chief stated his officers would check to make sure no one is being served too much. So although you paid for 25 locations, you might be cut off at 10 if you look like you've been drinking too much. I think that's something that could probably work. Maybe 20 or 15 places would be better."

Lewis' comments came during a preliminary discussion on the feasibility of the event by the city council this week.

Mayor Ray Rogina pointed to an endorsement of the event by the Downtown St. Charles Partnership as evidence for why the plan should move forward. Rogina is the city's top liquor commissioner. Since becoming mayor four years ago, he's pushed a business-first approach to any expansion of the city's liquor laws or alcohol-related decisions.

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"I believe I've heard as mayor that business in this town would relish the opportunity to see people coming into the community and knowing and getting a chance to understand their businesses," Rogina said.

"People who attend wine tastings, they are a pretty sophisticated crowd. What I like is if we have a number of people coming into the downtown, whether they are our residents or from Geneva or Batavia, by the time 5 p.m. comes around they are going to be ready for supper and dine at our local restaurants."

Both Rogina and Hartigan said it's unlikely most, if any participants, will make it to all 25 establishments within the 1 to 5 p.m. time frame of the event.

Police Chief Jim Keegan discussed the logistics and history of Libertyville's event with its police chief. Keegan said he has no concerns about the "Wine Down Winter" event getting out of control in St. Charles.

"Route 21 in Libertyville is very similar to Main Street in St. Charles," Keegan said. "This is an event Libertyville has done with great success."

The full city council must still take a final vote on the special event permit needed for "Wine Down Winter" to occur.

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