Suburbs want their downtowns to be full of businesses, particularly restaurants, because they enhance the community’s tax base and provide a more vibrant atmosphere. But what happens when a suburb has too many downtown bars? Here is the situation in St. Charles, Illinois:
Simpson wants to open a business called the Alibi Bar & Grill at 12 N. Third St. Aldermen told Simpson on Monday that they welcome the “grill” part of his plan, but they aren’t big fans of the “bar” part. Simpson’s plan envisions a “restaurant-style sports bar that will serve American-style food, cocktails, beer and appetizers.” He plans on having live entertainment at the establishment as well. He’s even agreed to close his doors at midnight on Friday and Saturday nights just to win a more favorable view of his liquor license application. But aldermen on the city council’s government operations committee weren’t sold.
“I really don’t think St. Charles needs more bars,” Alderman Cliff Carrignan said…
[St. Charles resident] Amundson lives in the downtown area and said the family-centered community he moved to has evolved into a weekend destination for young people on drinking binges…
Amundson’s comments spurred the rest of the conversation about how many taverns is too many in the city. Staff estimated there are between 50 and 60 restaurants in the city that have liquor licenses. Alderman Jim Martin has long crusaded against city’s tavern density.
St. Charles is a relatively wealthy and quiet yet growing community. While having new business is good, the issue of bars clashes with the community’s character: there is a line between being “family-friendly,” which I think many suburbs would wish to be known as, and having a vibrant restaurant scene, which I think many suburbs would also want. This is the same sort of issue that was brought up in Naperville late last year with a request from Show-Me’s to open a restaurant.
A community could deal with this in a few ways but there are two primary methods of control: zoning and liquor licenses. Certain uses, like tattoo parlors, are often not allowed, but suburbs can go even further to restrict the opening of new banks (Wheaton in more recent years). Restaurants are quite desirable for small downtowns as they can bring in people from outside the community and patrons might also spend money elsewhere in the downtown. At its best, a downtown might create a downtown entertainment district that includes food and entertainment (music, movies, theater, etc.). It sounds like those who are opposed to more bars in St. Charles are not opposed to more restaurants so perhaps the businessman will simply have to drop his request for a liquor license (though this would likely impact his opinion of the profitability of his venture).
More broadly, it sounds like St. Charles needs to make some decisions about what exactly they want in their downtown. Either path, toward families or food and entertainment, could work out but addressing the issue on a case-by-case basis will quickly get frustrating.