City imposes curfew on liquor sales

City imposes curfew on liquor sales

The city is imposing a curfew on liquor sales as it continues to impose social distancing in an effort to fight the coronavirus pandemic. | Sun-Times file

Liquor stores in the city will have to close at 9 p.m., starting Wednesday. Grocery and convenience stores that sell beer, wine and liquor will not be required to close early, so long as they stop selling packaged goods at 9 p.m.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday imposed a 9 p.m. curfew for all liquor sales in Chicago to prevent people from congregating outside those stores, which could lead to community spread of the coronavirus.

At a Wednesday news conference, Lightfoot said the city is “not messing around with this” and has empowered police and city inspectors to issue fines and shutdown orders.

She thanked liquor store owners for their “unqualified support for this measure,” but added: “Far too many have been congregating at stores that sell liquor.”

The mayor already had hinted at a possible curfew earlier this week after outlining a sweeping plan to bridge a racial divide tied to the pandemic that mirrors the life expectancy gap between black and white Chicagoans: 72 percent of city residents who have died from the virus are African American.

At the time, the mayor promised increased surveillance of groceries and convenience stores to enforce the social distancing requirement that patrons remain at least six feet apart.

Under questioning, the mayor she raised at least the possibility of targeted curfews in areas where people gather around liquor stores.

“We’ve heard reports across the city, particularly on the South Side, where some retailers are not advancing social distancing as they must. We are sending inspectors out. We will demand that you do this. And if you do not, we will shut you down,” Lightfoot said then.

On Wednesday, the mayor made good on her latest threat. Flanked by Interim Police Superintendent Charlie Beck and Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno, Lightfoot announced the curfew would take effect at 9 p.m. Thursday and would remain in effect indefinitely for all liquor stores citywide.

Grocery and convenience stores that sell beer, wine and liquor will not be required to close early, so long as they stop selling packaged goods at 9 p.m.

“These are not guidelines. These are not suggestions,” Escareno said.

The curfew will be strictly enforced by Chicago Police officers and city inspectors. Violators face fines and the loss of their liquor license, Lightfoot said.

“We have to protect ourselves,” Lightfoot said.

Beck said some liquor stores already had voluntarily had begun shutting down earlier, some by 6 p.m.

Eight businesses already have been cited for violating the stay-at-home order, Lightfoot said, with fines totaling $120,000 — “and we will collect them.”

Lightfoot’s decision to threaten the curfew, then impose it within days, follows a mayoral pattern.

She issued a similar threat the day before her unprecedented decision to shut down Chicago most iconic gathering places, including the 606 Trail and the entire lakefront and all of its parks, beaches walking paths and bike trails.

Far South Side Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), one of the mayor’s most outspoken City Council critics, said Lightfoot did the right thing by imposing a liquor store curfew. She might even need to take “more drastic” measures, he said, such as by imposing an even earlier curfew or shutting down problem liquor stores altogether.

“This is interrupting the drug market. They’re using the liquor stores as a means to congregate to be able to pass their drugs back and forth. That’s why they’re not respecting it. They’re still trying to sell their drugs. With everything else being closed, the only place with people going in and out where you can make exchanges right now are liquor stores,” Beale said.

Beale said he’s sorry it had to come to this. But, the mayor had no other choice.

“When you look at people still playing football, still playing basketball, still not respecting social distance when we have a crisis going on — I don’t know what people are thinking nowadays. You see people are dying and you’re not respecting the disaster that we’re in. It’s a shame that people are not taking this thing seriously,” he said.

West Side Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th), one of the mayor’s closest City Council allies, agreed the city needs to use “every tool in the tool box” to flatten the curve of coronavirus cases, particularly in the African-American community.

“Liquor stores and packaged good stores become the local hang-out. You’ve got folks who may not present signs, but have COVID-19 and continue to pass it unknowingly to their friends—especially in these African-American communities where we see the numbers and the deaths triple those in other communities,” Scott said.

“I’ve asked people to remove themselves from corners, but they’re not listening to me. I’ve talked to my commander. They’re not listening to the officers. So we find ourselves in this position. It’s getting warmer. Yesterday, I saw so many people in my community not obeying this shelter-in-place order. It’s really hard to stomach. But hopefully, if they’re not selling, they won’t be hanging.”

Earlier this week, a handful of West Side liquor stores voluntarily agreed to close early. But it wasn’t enough to stop the spread and drive home the urgent message, Scott said.

“When you’re at home and not at work and there’s not much to do, alcohol and things of that nature become more prevalent. You don’t want to restrict everything from everybody. You want folks to feel like they have some sense of normalcy in their lives. But, it can’t be at the detriment of others. That’s what’s happening when folks are standing on the corner and hanging out,” he said.

Scott said he has three friends who are “personally grappling” with the virus. He described one of them as a “healthy young man who was a basketball coach and an athlete all of his life.” He’s now “on a respirator battling for his life,” the alderman said.

“I really wish it didn’t have to come to this. But I don’t think people understand the gravity of the situation. And it’s not just my community. It’s the entire city,” Scott said.

Source : Fran Spielman Link

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