Area towns far friendlier to liquor sales than they used to be

Area towns far friendlier to liquor sales than they used to be

When Mahomet annexed the land Fred Barbadillo's bar was on in 2017, the village faced a minor dilemma.

It had a Class A license for bars, but the limit was set at zero.

Mahomet ceased being a dry town in 2007, and "we went into it more cautiously. We didn't want a bunch of bars," Village Administrator Patrick Brown said.

So the village raised the limit to one and eliminated the requirement that Class A establishments bring in at least 25 percent of their revenue from food sales.

"That made the way for Lake of the Woods Bar and Liquors," Brown said. "To be honest, we always knew we were going to change something if something came along."

This was good news for Barbadillo — his bar, also known as Millie's, could stay open — but it also meant new fees.

Located at 204 S. Prairie View Road, just north of Interstate 74, it had been unincorporated, and Barbadillo paid the county each year to renew the liquor license.

"Now I'm paying $2,000, plus another $30 processing fee, then the gaming license went up 25 bucks," Barbadillo said.

He also said he has to pay for a temporary special event license every time a band plays outside, instead of once for the whole year as he had been doing.

"It's been a little tough on me," Barbadillo said.

Lake of the Woods Bar & Liquors also faces more competition than it did in the past, when Mahomet was dry.

"Mahomet's expanding quite a bit," he said. "I used to be the only packaged liquor store in the area. Now, gas stations, CVS, Walgreens all sell alcohol."

Mahomet now has 10 packaged liquor licenses.

The board "just put a cap on that, not necessarily for any strong reason. It's just what we did," Brown said.

Mahomet's liquor license ordinances are similar to most other area towns, with limits on some categories that usually match the number of businesses in that category.

If a new business were to come to town, the village board would have to vote to increase the number of licenses; if a business closes, many towns automatically drop the limit by one.

In Savoy, the village may soon add a new category of liquor license for theaters, which would allow the Goodrich Savoy 16 multiplex to serve beer, wine and mixed drinks.

The village board met this month to discuss the proposal, which Goodrich suggested, Village Manager Dick Helton said. It will be put up for a formal vote in June.

"They came to us and suggested this. They'd like to do it because they're doing it at a lot of their other theaters and it has gone over pretty well, and now they want to try it in Savoy," Helton said.

As currently drafted, Savoy's ordinance wouldn't allow alcohol to be served to customers watching G- or PG-rated movies before 8 p.m.

The county's other multiplex — the AMC 13 theater in Champaign — has served alcohol since 2013 and has a Class TH license with the city.

Champaign's liquor ordinances are similar to other towns', though the limit for its Class A license for bars is well above the actual number of bars, Deputy City Manager Matt Roeschley said.

"The city council voted about a year ago to expand the number of licenses to create some space in Class A," he said. "The cap is now 75, and we're well under that at this point by at least 15."

When the cap had been at 60 and a license became available after a business closed, the city would hold a lottery for anyone on the wait list.

"The liquor ordinance still contains the possibility for a lottery, but that wouldn't happen until we've been at the capped number for a year or more," Roeschley said. "At this point, we're far from that, and the process is pretty simple at this point."

If a new business is looking for a liquor license, it must apply to the city and seek approval from the liquor commission.

Other area towns require the city council or village board to approve any new liquor licenses, usually by raising the limit in particular categories.

Urbana often approves new liquor licenses in this way.

"The cap that we have at the city of Urbana for liquor licenses is simply the number of licenses that we've issued and are ongoing," Deputy Local Liquor Commissioner Kate Brickman Levy said. The application "goes through the departmental routing process and eventually to the city council."

For example, the Urbana City Council voted in 2017 to add a bar license for Blackbird, at 119 W. Main St., and a restaurant license for bar-catering service Lumen Events.

Danville's rules are pretty straightforward as well, though you can't buy liquor at a gas station or convenience store.

While some may look like they sell liquor, "they have a totally separate entrance," Danville City Clerk Lisa Monson said.

Monson, who's worked at the city for 28 years, wasn't sure why Danville has this restriction, as it predates her time there.

In smaller towns, liquor licenses are even simpler.

Pesotum, for example, only has two licenses.

"We have one for the Wayside, and then the American Legion gets one periodically when they have events going on," Village President Joyce Ragle said.

And in Fisher, which moved from a dry town to wet in 2009, there is one club license for the AMVETS Post, two for packaged sales and two restaurant licenses.

"All those quotas, the board could always change if a new business is interested in coming to town," Village Administrator Jeremy Reale said.

He's been with the village for four years and said being a wet town appears to be working out OK.

"There's no problems that I'm aware," Reale said. "I think the town has pretty well accepted that these are establishments that really enhance the business-downtown area. ... It's hard to find parking spaces on Friday and Saturday nights."

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