Jacksonville City Council Hears First Reading on Liquor Ordinance Change to Allow Grocery Stores to Sell Liquor

By Benjamin Cox on September 26, 2023 at 2:56pm

The Jacksonville City Council heard the first reading of a change to the local liquor license ordinance that’s been in place for nearly 30 years.

The change would effect Class BB licenses, which allow certain establishments to carry beer and liquor for sale for off-premise consumption – with the exception of grocery stores. Stores that did more than so much of a percentage of their business in sales of groceries and general goods could not sell spirits on premise – only beer and wine.

City Attorney Dan Beard says that the ordinance has been in place since before he became City attorney in Jacksonville in 1997. He says some of the reasoning behind it may certainly have been competition as well as the fact that there used to be so many places in town that offered off-premise consumption sales: “I know there was concern [at that time] certainly with competition and the overall number of liquor licenses that were outstanding. The council has had a practice of reducing the number of liquor licenses when each one is turned in. That [practice] has kind of switched now where more and more [establishments] are seeking the full liquor licenses.”

Beard says that at one time the predominant thought was much different than it is today in the Jacksonville community: “I think at one time the predominant feeling was grocery stores did not have liquor. Eagle, years ago, had a separate liquor department with a separate entrance. It was kind of tied into the idea that there were no Sunday liquor sales and how were you going to shut off a portion of the store without having the separately contained area. Many of the liquor stores in the area are most like a convenience store with the food, and snacks, and so forth that they sell. This [change to the ordinance] in that respect make it more of an even playing field with the grocery stores being able to sell liquor, just as liquor stores can sell some items of food, as well.”

Ward 2 Alderwoman Lori Large-Oldenettel says that she received a phone call from a constituent urging her to vote ‘yes’ on the change because the constituent says that it would make for more competition and better pricing in the city. Oldenettel remarked that at least 3 of the liquor stores in town are currently owned by one person.

When asked if the city would be setting itself of for discrimination liability because most of the town’s liquor stores do sell a certain percentage of groceries like a convenience store, Beard says that current law allows municipalities to differentiate in their liquor ordinance who can get certain kinds of licenses: “It’s pretty clear under current state of the law that the city does have ability to regulate liquor licenses, liquor sales, and differentiate between similar types of businesses. If at some point one of the grocery stores would come in and demand a liquor license and say they were being discriminated against because they could not obtain one, I would not have any problems defending the city’s position. Now, I think it is a situation, if we grant it through grocery stores, I think we have to grant it to convenience stores, because I really don’t see a distinction between those two types of businesses.”

Mayor Andy Ezard, who is also the city’s Liquor Control Commissioner, says that times have changed in the city, and by allowing the change, new grocery store Hy-Vee and its ownership, who has asked for the change would help be a good economic driver for the city.

Jacksonville Hy-Vee Store Director Jim Blizzard and Hy-Vee Director of Government Relations Tyler Power were on hand to explain that the liquor-beer-wine portion of their business is currently in all of their stores. Power noted that events that the stores hold surrounding craft spirit and craft beer sales brings in a lot of people to their stores, and has become a major drive of foot traffic.

Ezard says he likes what he’s heard from Hy-Vee and what they do for the communities their currently located in: “[The attitudes about alcohol sales] has kind of evolved. I understand the past councils and the mayors thinking in the past. It was different times. A lot of people didn’t think marijuana was going to be legal, but now it is. I think the mindset now in the community is that we’ve seen no ill will on [the cannabis issue] and the dispensary opening up. The jobs that Hy-Vee brings in – they mentioned 16 potential new jobs in the city. All of the current [County Market] have that opportunity to be retained. Those are the things that, as mayor and the council, wants to hear. I think [not passing this change] would hamstring them if we didn’t offer them this ability to sell liquor on top of all of things they are going to do for the community. I think in a couple of weeks, the general public and the citizens have that time to talk to myself or the aldermen on their thinking; but I anticipate this moving forward.”

The first reading of the ordinance passed 7-0 with abstentions from Alderwoman Mary Watts and Alderman Kent Hannant. Hannant objected to the change on so quick of a timeline because he said during the Workshop Session it hadn’t been well-publicized on why the change was needed or what it actually meant. Watts did not offer her reasoning for abstaining from the vote.

The second reading of the change is expected in the next Jacksonville City Council meeting in October. Hy-Vee officials said they would then apply for their liquor license for the Jacksonville location at that time.