St. Charles aldermen favor expanded alcohol sales in city

In perhaps a show that city officials believe they've kicked any sentiments about being a bar town, St. Charles aldermen supported expanded access to alcohol Monday night, including a change that would increase video gambling hours.

The changes include allowing alcohol sales at gas stations, expanding breweries, and liquor sales before 10 a.m. on Sunday for the first time. Police Chief James Keegan said the alterations to the city's liquor laws come at the request of local business owners.

"We pride ourselves in St. Charles as being business-friendly," Keegan said. "We like to listen to our proprietors."

The full city council will take a final vote on the changes July 5.

Nick Smith, the owner of Alexanders Cafe, said expanded liquor hours on Sundays is a hospitality issue. Sunday is the only day of the week alcohol sales don't begin at 7 a.m. in the city.

"This is not a money grab," Smith said. "It's more about the customers coming to visit St. Charles and dine in the city. The current situation creates confusion as to whether I'm the bad guy or the city is the bad guy because someone can't have a Bloody Mary or a Mimosa. This is a good, level playing field to be at so that people who come to our city to dine aren't stopped by a municipal code, and they can leave satisfied."

Alderman Maureen Lewis voted against the change. She said the move invites other requests to allow alcohol sales even earlier or later into the night. But Smith said he expects early liquor sales to be minimal given the experience of the Alexander's location in Elgin.

"I don't think there's anybody coming to these stores liquored up or on an all-nighter," Smith said.

The pending change in alcohol sale hours will also allow any establishment with video gambling machines to start play at 7 a.m. on Sundays as well.

A second significant change will allow gas stations to sell alcohol for the first time in their convenience stores. Stand-alone convenience stores of less than 10,000 square feet, such as some of the local 7-Eleven shops, would still not be allowed to sell alcohol. But even with that limitation, several aldermen, with Lewis again being the leading voice, did not welcome an expansion to alcohol sales outlets.

"I think it just dilutes properties that we already have selling alcohol," Lewis said. She pointed to the $65,000 mental health grant to the Renz Addiction Counseling Center later on the agenda as a prime example of why the city doesn't need more places to buy alcohol.

Aldermen Ron Silkaitis and Rita Payleitner joined her in voting against the change, but the majority of aldermen approved the plan.

Other pending changes will allow breweries with restaurants, and distilleries and wineries to open in the city for the first time. Establishments with specialty drinks, such as signature margaritas, will also be able to sell sealed versions of those drinks on a carryout basis for the first time.

For several of the pending changes, Keegan pointed to nearby communities that all allow such alcohol sales as a primary reason to amend the city's liquor code.

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