Liquor code debate continues in DeKalb

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DeKALB – There was a lot of agreement between the DeKalb City Council and its liquor commission on the various aspects of overhauling the city’s extensive liquor code.

But there’s one aspect that needs to be fleshed out: The purpose and existence of the liquor commission itself. City Attorney Dean Frieders said different communities have different uses for such a body, while others have no liquor commission.

At times, the discussion on this topic between aldermen and commissioners was heated during their joint meeting Wednesday night. Liquor Commission Chairman Matthew Kapustianyk said they are needed because of the expertise they offer.

“We know the liquor code much more than members of the City Council,” Kapustianyk said. “What we offer is for the business owners and residents to discuss issues that are brought about concerning liquor.”

Kapustianyk partly attributed their experience to the length they’ve served on the commission, a point 4th Ward Alderman Brendon Gallagher sharply criticized.

Gallagher, who is in favor disbanding the liquor commission, noted that the group rarely meets.

Kris Povlsen, who as mayor of DeKalb is also the liquor commissioner, said he would discuss with Kapustianyk the fate of the volunteer body. However, Povlsen noted that there is a lot of agreement between the council and the commission on a number of topics.

No official vote was taken on any of the issues discussed at the meeting, and it’s possible for the proposal to change before the next City Council meeting where it will be discussed.

The proposal as it stands would reduce the city’s regular liquor licenses from 21 to eight based on use – how much of the establishment would be considered a bar, restaurant or a grocery store. The group decided definitively on a number of policy issues, while others were left open-ended.

One issue that wasn’t addressed was whether the size of the store should be a determining factor in getting a license.

The city has recently issued licenses to large grocery stores such as Schnucks and CVS Pharmacy, but Walmart and Target are not permitted. There is a possibility that could change under the proposal.

“You sell packaged liquor, you sell by the drink; it doesn’t matter what size you are,” Povlsen said. “The only contention I heard is what those prices should be. Should the big guys pay more than the small mom-and-pops? But I really didn’t hear any dissension that a liquor store of a larger size should not be able to open.”

One policy question that concerns American Liquors owner Louis Schoenburg is how many licenses the city can issue. Currently, the city has restrictions on how many of each liquor license can be issued, but that could change in the overhaul.

“You’re all smart people, but you don’t understand the ugly underbelly of our industry,” Schoenburg said to the assembled group in favor of restricting issuing the number of liquor licenses.

Schoenburg said allowing unlimited liquor licenses to be issued, especially to convenience stores and gas stations, would transform DeKalb into Sycamore. Schoenburg said independent liquor stores in that town are undermanned, thus allowing minors to shoplift from the stores.

“Imagine DeKalb with 12,000 extra 18-to-20-year-olds. ... Most of these kids are good kids,” Schoenburg said. “But there’s a tough element in town. My competitors and I watch our stores like a hawk ... because there are people who steal us blind.”

Povlsen said there is no movement in the group to allow convenience stores and gas stations to sell alcohol. However, there was no clear direction on the number of licenses that will be available.

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