Loosen up rules, have a drink

Loosen up rules, have a drink

Champaign is looking to adapt to the changing marketplace of alcohol consumption.

Tweaking long-standing rules to meet shifting business models is a sound practice for municipal governments.

But a proposed change or two in Champaign's liquor code may have taken some people by surprise, particularly the one involving allowing people to "sip 'n' shop" at specified local grocery stores.

Is that sort of proposed change really a crying need? That, of course, depends who's asking and who's answering the question.

Grocery retailers who are asking for the change contend that it is a "trend in the grocery industry."

That may come as a surprise to some people. But for others who get out more, it's an eye-catching reality.

Grocery stores in the Seattle area actually have full-scale bars set up in the middle of their stores.

That seems like an odd place to have a drink or two, but there's no accounting for the marketplace. If there's a demand or one that can be manufactured by clever marketing, so be it.

In addition to the proposed "sip 'n' shop" proposal, city staff proposed two other changes.

One would allow the package sale of beer and wine at farmers markets as well as free sampling and tasting. That would appear to be a perfect venue for sales of craft beers and vintage wines.

Most people are looking for sweet corn, crisp apples and sweet peaches at farmers markets. But diversifying the fare just could draw larger crowds and increased sales.

Finally, the city wishes to loosen the ban on open carry to public streets and sidewalks at events like Friday Night Live.

Anyone who has wandered downtown on Friday nights to see what's up surely has noticed large crowds of people sitting outside bars and restaurants consuming, among others things, alcoholic beverages. Rather than tether patrons to the establishment where they bought their drinks, the looser rules would allow individuals to carry their drinks in plastic cups outside the venue where they were bought.

That means on to city sidewalks, alleys and streets.

Of the three proposals, this one has the most potential for abuse, something city officials recognize by limiting the hours it would be permitted. No one wants to see intoxicated people wandering hither and yon with potable beverages in hand. But, given the wide variety of activities at Friday Night Live, it's easy to see why people might want to move from one location to another without pouring out their drink.

Still, it all comes across as rather strange — almost unhealthy — the manner in which people are permitted, even encouraged, to consume alcohol in public.

But adults are entitled to make their own choices even as the alcoholic-beverage industry is heavily regulated, as it should be.

But good regulation is sensible regulation, not mindlessly restrictive. None of these measures come across as beyond the pale. Indeed, they make a certain amount of sense given changes in both the business and entertainment marketplace. If adopted, they will, of course, require scrutiny to determine that they're working as intended.

But there's no reason not to give them a try. If there's no harm, there's no foul.

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