St. Charles bar and restaurant owners expressed frustration, resentment and even a sense of betrayal that liquor code revisions will cost those establishments wanting to stay open until 2 a.m. $900 more than they paid in 2013.
City officials hosted a meeting for Class B and C liquor license holders — those who will be affected by the liquor code revisions that were approved Monday and take effect May 1.
During the meeting, Mayor Raymond Rogina explained his rationale for the changes, which he insists will provide the city and liquor license holders more options than would have been allowed when the City Council voted 5-4 against a proposal in September 2012 to require a 1 a.m. closing time for all bars in St. Charles.
The new ordinance sets a midnight closing time for Class B and C liquor licenses, cutting the cost of those licenses from $2,600 to $1,200. But the ordinance also establishes 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. late-night permits that bar and restaurant owners can purchase.
The 1 a.m. permit costs $800 — which remains a savings for owners, whose total license and permit cost would total $2,000, still less than the $2,600 they paid for a license in 2013.
The 2 a.m. permit would cost owners $2,300, pushing their combined license and permit cost to $3,500, or $900 more than they paid for a liquor license alone in 2013.
2 a.m. Permit Fee a Concern
City officials hope the higher price for the 2 a.m. permit will be an incentive for more bars to opt for a 1 a.m. closing time, a move they hope will help rein in problems downtown, which range from brawling and fights to public drunkenness to public urination.
But the cost of the late-night permit in particular, appeared to agitate owners most, particularly, as several noted, that they feel compelled to purchase the 2 a.m. permit as a matter of survival for their businesses.
“Choosing 1 o’clock (late-night permit) would be a death sentence,” said one owner. “Everybody will go to the places that are going to stay open until 2.”
That makes it particularly painful for owners of small establishments, said another owner, who fears she cannot afford the $2,300 late-night permit fee for the 2 a.m. license, but further worries that settling for a 1 a.m. license would eventually kill her business.
At the same time, however, she told city officials she likes the idea of the late-night permit because it would help the city to rein in establishments that have been a source of trouble in the downtown area.
A number of owners agreed that problems are bound to appear. As Mayor Rogina pointed out at one point, the bars are the only businesses in town whose patrons’ behavior can change between the time they enter a bar and the time they leave.
But some owners pointed out that they should not be held responsible for the behavior of patrons who leave one establishment and cause trouble at or in front of another.
A couple of bar owners complained that at least some incidents that end up in police media reports like St. Charles Patch’s Police Blotter represent customers of other establishments who, for example, leave on bar and urinate in front of another.
That, one woman said, gives her establishment a bad name for an incident involving someone else’s customer.
At least one bar owner suggested the problems people have complained about in the downtown area will remain no matter what laws the city passes.
That was countered, however, by another bar owner, who said there is a stark difference between the downtown’s streets at night today compared to years ago.
Adam Salerno pointed out that in spite of the police presence at night downtown, he seldom sees couples and families out walking around in the evenings. That, he said, indicates there’s a problem because it is a shift from the safe feeling couples and families in the past have had about walking through downtown St. Charles at night.
“We created what’s out there, and that’s one thing I don’t think we’re taking ownership of,” Salerno told the other bar owners. “We have to get a happy median in the city … let’s not make excuses that ‘I don’t see that,’ or ‘I don’t see this.’
“The establishment does have the responsibility of controlling its customers,” he concluded.
City-Bars Tension, Tax Concerns
Some other issues raised during the course of Thursday’s forum included:
“A very adversarial relationship between the bar owners” and City Council, said Steve Baginski, a local dentist and owner of The Beehive. He noted there are some on the City Council who would like there to be no bars in this down. He told Rogina and other city officials that attitude needs to end. “I am all in favor of getting rid of the problems,” he said, pointing out that bar owns coalesced to take action when the issue of street fights, over-serving of alcohol and other problems came to a head in 2012. “We’re making an effort to try to resolve this. But we cannot control what the people do …” The latter remark was in reference to customers who sneak a bottle out of a bar or who go outside and urinate in public.
Thomas Wojcik, a co-owner of The House Pub, took issue with the late-night fee as another layer of taxation, which he objected to particularly in light of the 2 percent alcoholic beverage tax the city instituted several years ago. In exchange for that tax, he said, the city extended bar hours until 2 a.m. Now, he said, the city is requiring bars to stay open that late to pay another fee. He said if the city is adamant about the late night fee, it should rescind the alcoholic beverage tax.
Wojcik also took exception to the ordinance revisions because they are a way in which the city is trying to exert control over the businesses and require them to change their business plans.
Jeremy Casiello, of Alley 64, asked city officials for a meeting between the city and bar owners to define terms like over-service of alcohol in an attempt to clear up confusion over this and other issued. Rogina and City Administrator Mark Koenen agreed keeping up the dialogue is essential.