RANTOUL - For the last 11 years, the Phillips 66 at U.S. 136 and U.S. 45 has been the only gas station in town that sold beer.
That could change a few weeks from now.
The Rantoul Village Board voted last year to prohibit businesses that sell gasoline from also selling liquor in their stores.
So when the liquor license held by Harper Oil, which owns Phillips 66, expires at midnight on April 30, the company will have to pack up all its beer and sell it elsewhere.
Harper Oil spokesman Chris Sommer this week appealed to the village board to extend its liquor license for at least another six to nine months.
Sommer said his company has spent $515,000 on building and equipment improvements to the gas station on the assumption that the facility would continue to hold a liquor license.
Sommer said beer purchases amount to 15 percent of his sales, with another 10 percent coming from add-on sales of potato chips and other items by customers who come in to buy beer.
?I'm concerned that people who no longer buy beer with us will no longer buy gas with us,? Sommer said.
If Phillips 66 stops selling beer at the end of the month, Sommer said he will be forced to lay off two of his seven employees.
?Without sales from beer and associated items, we will have to cut two positions,? Sommer said.
But Harper Oil faces opposition from operators of other gas stations who also would like to sell liquor. Some of the stations have had liquor license applications on file for 11 years.
According to village liquor records, Mobil Super Pantry has been waiting for a liquor license since 1992, Mac's Amoco has been waiting since 1995, Casey's General Store has been waiting since 1997 and Warner Amoco has been waiting since 2001.
Warner Amoco owner Janet Warner said the ability to sell beer makes a big difference to a gas station's bottom line.
?Our business is struggling. We only make about 2 to 3 cents per gallon of gasoline, so we need the sale of other items like beer to make a profit,? Warner said. ?Having the ability to sell beer would at least help us to try to stay in business.?
Warner predicted that some of Rantoul's gas stations will soon close if they don't get liquor licenses.
At Tuesday's study session, the village board directed attorney Ken Beth to draw up an amendment to the liquor ordinance that would remove the prohibition against gas stations selling liquor and would add five more packaged liquor licenses for the various gas stations that want them.
But it is unclear whether a majority of the board is willing to pass those amendments at the village's April 8 meeting.
Rantoul village board member Chuck Smith said he believes Harper Oil is being childish and condescending to ask the trustees to reverse their decision.
?You already told us we didn't make the proper judgment last year,? Smith said. ?We gave Harper Oil a cutoff date for their license, and the privilege is over.?
Village board member Ron Loy noted the village has already issued 27 liquor licenses.
?Right now we have a liquor license for every 425 persons in Rantoul,? Loy said. ?That's more than enough liquor licenses. I wouldn't add five more liquor licenses.?
Trustee Herman Fogal said he believes opening up liquor sales would increase competition in town and keep prices down.
?We're eliminating competition right now, and that's the worst thing we can do for the local economy,? Fogal said.
Molloy said he would support Fogal if the village increases the annual fee for packaged liquor licenses. (The fee now is $1,060.)
?If they've got the bucks, they get a license,? Molloy said.
But Rick Richardson, owner of the Liquor Locker and Liquorette liquor stores, warned that adding five more liquor licenses would dilute his stores' business so much that the packaged liquor stores may go out of business.
You can reach Tim Mitchell at (217) 893-1423 or via e-mail at email@example.com.