Council Approves Liquor Sales for Grocery Stores in Close Vote

By Jeremy Coumbes on October 12, 2023 at 10:52am

A spirited discussion lasting nearly an hour was held in the Jacksonville City Council chambers Monday night over the possible expansion of certain liquor licenses.

The council heard a second reading of a proposed amendment to the liquor code which if approved would allow grocery stores to sell hard liquor. The proposal was from a request by Hy-Vee which has purchased the now-former County Market on West Morton Avenue.

During the first reading two weeks ago, the proposal passed by a 7 – 0 vote. Gurvinder (Gary) Singh, owner of three liquor stores in the city spoke against the passing of the amendment, saying that his small businesses could not compete with large stores like Hy-Vee and Walmart and their low margins on liquor sales.

Singh said if the big box stores began to sell liquor, small stores like his would be out of business in a short amount of time costing the city tax revenue and jobs.

Hy-Vee Director of Government Relations Tyler Power said he believes the increased competition in the market would be good for the consumer.

After a lengthy discussion by the council, which included talk of possibly putting a limit on the square footage a grocery store could utilize for liquor sales, a motion by Ward 2 Alderwoman Lori Large Oldenettel to table the measure failed 5 to 4, with Alderwoman Mary Watts abstaining.

The measure then passed by a slim 5 to 3 vote with Oldenettel, Allison Rubin de Celis, and Darcella Speed voting no, and both Watts and Kent Hannant abstaining.

Mayor Andy Ezard, who also serves as the Liquor Control Commissioner says that it was a spirited discussion with good points being made on all sides. “A lot of good due diligence [was done] as far as the council reaching out to Gary and Reha with their challenges, and they presented well along with the gentleman from Hy-Vee.

I know it wasn’t an easy decision for the council. They made it and we will move on from that. I think it came down to wanting to do what’s best for the consumer, and if Hy-Vee can provide a lower price, it’s more or less consumer-driven.

Now I’m all about small business too, and that was the argument on Gay and Reha’s side which, like I said was very compelling. It hit a lot of notes with the council and I believe that’s why it went from an eight to zero first reading to a five to three second reading.”

Hy-Vee closed on the sale and took possession of the former County Market on Monday. The store is currently closed for remodeling and Power says they hope to reopen by the end of the month.

He says the full beer, liquor, and wine section would take up the same footprint as the beer and wine-only section of the store.