St. Charles weighs whether grocers should be allowed to deliver alcohol

Posted10/8/2018 5:30 AM
  • The Blue Goose Market is one of a handful of St. Charles retailers interested in offering grocery delivery services that include alcohol.

    The Blue Goose Market is one of a handful of St. Charles retailers interested in offering grocery delivery services that include alcohol. Daily Herald file photo

In a society that values convenience, e-commerce platforms offering food and grocery drop-off services have taken off. But should those deliveries include alcohol?

That's the question being posed in St. Charles, where the delivery of liquor to private homes is prohibited except in special circumstances such as a catered event.

Packaged alcohol deliveries already are taking place throughout the city, police Chief James Keegan said. And with GrubHub, Uber Eats and other common carrier companies surging in popularity, he doesn't anticipate the trend letting up any time soon.

While several city officials have indicated a level of comfort with allowing packaged alcohol deliveries, much of the ongoing debate has centered around how it should be regulated, if at all.

"You always try to strike a balance," Keegan said. "We want to be business-friendly but also protect the interest of the citizenry."

What's the draw?

National retailers such as Walmart and Meijer have started offering pickup and drop-off programs to make shopping easier for customers. Many community stores now are jumping on board to stay competitive.

St. Charles' Blue Goose Market, for example, is partnering with local e-commerce company Errand Up to launch a home delivery program in the coming weeks, President and CEO Paul Lencioni said. In his eyes, there's no reason customers shouldn't be able to order a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer along with their other groceries.

"We have a responsibility as a community to be innovative and progressive," he said. "It's absolutely the way of the future."

A handful of other businesses have shown interest in liquor deliveries, including Gordy's Quick Mart and the Pride Liquor Store.

City officials have said their goal is to ensure businesses can stay up-to-date on shopping trends without causing a safety issue. For alcohol deliveries to be handled correctly, Lencioni said, he believes much of the responsibility falls onto the liquor licensee, as is the case with in-store transactions.

How it works

For many grocery delivery programs, retailers work with third-party carriers that pick up products from the store and bring them directly to customers. The transaction typically is facilitated through a website or app.

For stores such as Meijer and its delivery partner, Shipt, extra steps are taken when alcohol is involved, said Cameron Stewart, digital shopping specialist for Meijer. The Shipt shopper has to be at least 21 and obtain a special certification before he or she can even review an online order containing liquor, he said. Customers also must sign for the order after their IDs are scanned and validated, among other requirements.

Meijer offers home delivery out of its St. Charles store for regular groceries and is interested in adding alcohol, representatives said. The company already delivers alcohol in Michigan, where it is headquartered.

Other towns

Only a handful of suburban towns -- including Downers Grove and Wheeling -- have enacted measures to regulate alcohol deliveries. Rules include requiring carriers to be at least 21, to verify the customer is at least 21 and to keep a record of all transactions.

In Naperville, the liquor commission has recommended allowing a liquor license holder to deliver packaged alcohol to customers with two main rules: The transfer of funds must take place online rather than at the door, and the employee making the delivery must be BASSET (Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training)-certified, Mayor Steve Chirico said. All state laws also must be followed, he said.

The measure will be considered by the city council. The rules would not apply to common carriers such as Instacart or the U.S. Postal Service.

While surveying other communities, Keegan found that most either haven't addressed the topic or have chosen to stay silent. Batavia, for example, does not have any laws pertaining to alcohol delivery, though City Administrator Laura Newman said they're watching St. Charles' next moves closely.

What's next

A proposal introduced several weeks ago in St. Charles would have permitted the delivery of alcohol so long as common carriers and customers follow a set of rules and procedures. That measure was shot down by aldermen, many of whom said they support liquor deliveries but worry police won't be able to effectively enforce the ordinance.

Instead, the council asked staff members to create an ordinance that does nothing more than lift the city's ban on home alcohol deliveries. If it is ratified Oct. 15, the city's code wouldn't implement local rules but would refer to state liquor laws for enforcement purposes.

"Even if we (go silent), the law always protects alcohol from getting into the wrong hands," Keegan said. "That's the underlying concern."

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