The owners of a longtime St Charles liquor store learned this week that perceptions matter, and that their hope to modernize their business by adding a drive-up window for packaged liquor sales faces an uphill battle.
Julie and David Lundeen, owners of Lundeen’s Liquors, 1315 W. Main St., pitched their proposal to the St. Charles Liquor Control Commission on Monday, Sept. 16, 2013.
In an age where drive-through service is offered for everything from coffee to fast food, Julie Lundeen told the commission she and her husband want to adapt their business to the way society is becoming accustomed to shop.
David Lundeen projected they could increase their business 35 percent by adding the drive-up window — largely as a result of patrons who are senior citizens with limited mobility, or who are disabled. He said those two groups likely will represent a large proportion of any drive-through business because it offers them a more accessible alternative to making purchases — whether liquor, tobacco or a Sunday newspaper.
The couple also own a Sycamore liquor store, where they have offered drive-through service for 19 years. They said they have operated the facility without incident.
Police Chief Jim Lamkin, who said he had been in contact with his counterpart in Sycamore, said the couple’s store there does have a good reputation. Julie Lundeen said the community has allowed drive-through windows at some liquor stores since the 1960s.
Ordinance, Zoning Issues
The proposal is complicated and has layers of sorts. First, the city liquor code prohibits drive-through and curbside service by package liquor stores. Making that change would require an ordinance amendment, which would take some time to make its way through the process.
Another level is a zoning issue that would have to be addressed separately by the Planning Commission. Specifically, city zoning laws allow drive-through facilities on lots that are at least one acre. The Lundeens' new store location is on a lot of less than a half acre.
Getting a special use permit to sidestep that requirement would require visits with the city's Community Development Department, the Plan Commission, the City Council Planning and Development Committee and ultimately before the City Council for formal approval.
Lamkin also raised a concern: If the city were to approve the proposal by the Lundeens, who have nearly two decades of experience with drive-through service at their Sycamore store, what safeguards could the city add to its liquor code to ensure less-experienced individuals — with a greater likelihood for making mistakes — are not able to get the permit to do so easily.
What Message Will Be Sent?
Ultimately, that last stop could be the stumbling block and was one of the reasons Alderwomen Rita Anne Payleitner, Ward 2, and Maureen Lewis, Ward 5, who are members of the Liquor Control Commission, voted against the Lundeens' request.
Voting for it was Charles A. Amenta II; Robert Gehm was absent. Mayor Raymond Rogina, who by law serves as the city’s liquor commissioner, does not vote except to break a tie, although he said he favors allowing the proposal to go through the process.
Payleitner and Lewis explained their opposition to the Lundeens’ proposal on several fronts — ranging from concerns about alcohol sales to customers who may be underage or who may be intoxicated, to the store’s proximity to a school.
But they both also focused on perceptions — how the city’s approval of the drive-through window would be perceived in a city where at least some residents believe there are too many alcohol-fueled problems already — from street brawls and fights to public drunkenness, people passed out on sidewalks or parking lots, and people urinating in public.
Payleitner and Lewis indicated that expanding liquor sales to include drive-through service would send the wrong message to residents already upset over the alcohol-related issues downtown, and to those who believe the city has allowed too many taverns and bars in the downtown area, driving away businesses and visitors.
Rogina, however, clearly disagreed. He countered some objections point by point, although he agreed their perception concerns can only be addressed by the full City Council.
That option, he added, remains open to the Lundeens, whom he told have a right to bring their request before the City Council for its consideration. Give the couple’s history in the business — “they run a tight ship,” he said — Rogina encouraged them to go to the City Council.
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