City boos Walgreens' booze
05/30/2012 10:00 PM
You know the old adage, one never knows what’s going on right outside their front door? Well, I just found out in my case it’s true.
I have in my possession the recent decision of the City of Chicago License Appeal Commission that affirmed the decision of the City of Chicago Liquor Commission, which denied Walgreens at Roosevelt and State the right to sell packaged liquor in its store. As a neighbor of Walgreens, reading the decision is a wild ride.
It all started two years ago, when Walgreens applied to sell booze at Roosevelt and State. Upscale booze, they maintained. None of the cheap stuff like they sell at Trader Joe’s a half city block away. The answer to Walgreens during the summer of 2010 was a big NO!
One reason? From January 1, 2010 until May 23, 2010, 443 calls to the police were made because something nefarious was going on at Walgreens’ corner — which happens to be kiddie corner from my house. A corner I frequent every day, going in one direction or another. The calls, according to the commission’s decision, included — but were not limited to — “disturbances, robberies, batteries, assaults and narcotics incidents.” Who knew? I’m living in a regular Sin City.
The decision was also based on evidence that there are oodles of college students in the area under the age of 21. I guess these students have a propensity to buy booze at Walgreens as opposed to the aforementioned Trader Joe’s (which would be more within their budget, one would think). Or Jewel-Osco, just across Roosevelt Road from Walgreen’s, which has quite a liquor department on a second-level balcony. Then there’s Target only a block away at Roosevelt and Clark; not to mention Warehouse Liquors at Harrison and Wabash, which is truly in the heart of the South Loop’s college town. The powers that be seem to think not only the bad guys, but the college students will be drawn like magnets to Walgreens if there were to be wine, beer and spirits therein.
The denial of Walgreens’ request “included, but was not limited to, concerns that the issuance of the license would increase the risk of violations of law or a risk of substantial increase in noise, litter or vehicular congestion,” says the License Appeal Commission, which goes on to explain that a lot of folks at that corner “are intoxicated on a daily basis and currently cause disturbances,” and that “the issuance of this license would exacerbate the problem … and represent an increased threat to the safety and welfare of the residents and visitors.”
What surprised me was that two people I know from the neighborhood, active in their respective community organizations, testified at the original liquor commission hearing against Walgreens. According to the decision, “their concerns centered on the people coming and going in a transient area that are panhandling and loitering.” In addition, other knowledgeable representatives from both Columbia College, DePaul University and people living and working in my neighborhood spoke out against giving Walgreens a license to bring our neighborhood down to the depths of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) also testified against Walgreens. According to the ruling, his opposition was “based on the fact that the premises are a little run down with banners 14 or 15 years old.” He also said there is a lot of “in and out traffic” at various times, and “people using the area underneath the L for a restroom, urinating and defecating.” He felt the issuance of a liquor license at my Walgreens would have a negative impact on the health, safety and welfare of our surrounding community.
After reading this stuff, I wanted to call a realtor. Who knew?
But, alas, there was one way that local law enforcement felt that Walgreens could redeem itself and sell all the booze it wanted: by hiring uniformed and “potentially armed” security for its store for a few months.
But Walgreens doesn’t like the idea. Bad for its image. It would scare people away, they said, by making customers think it’s not a safe store. They want to maintain the security they already have in place: “greeters,” employees in regular clothes already on staff who roam the store and watch for pilferers, people disturbing the peace and other such bums. They play the part of bouncers, when necessary. But the police commander, the alderman and the commission stood their ground, and wanted the hiring of the real thing for at least a few months to see what would happen. Walgreens stood its ground, too, and said no way.
So that’s where it stands. Legally, the area around Walgreens is seen as a law enforcement problem. Even though Walgreens testified it wouldn’t sell the kind of booze the bad guys like (fortified wine, malt liquor and 40-ounce single-serve products) the commission is not budging.
Walgreens is seen as the problem even though Trader Joe’s has wine for sale for as little as $2.69 per bottle, Walgreens defenders maintain.
Each side is stubborn. The City won’t give Walgreens the license unless they hire real security guards for three to six months to see how it all goes. And Walgreens refuses to do that. Would the liquor sale profits be eaten up by the extra personnel?
But for us residents, the story is all about finding out what evil lurks outside our doors. This decision made me wish for simpler, more carefree days, for a time before I knew what went on just steps from my house. I liked living in a fool’s paradise. Now that I know the truth, I need a glass of wine, a couple of beers or a good stiff highball. Wish I could buy some of that at my Walgreens. They always have such good sales on their booze.