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Bloomington Delays Liquor License Over Conditions, Enforcement Questions

Chiko Russo speaking at Bloomington City Council
Eric Stock
Nathan "Chiko" Russo turned to address the owners of a proposed convenience store to open a grocery store in the southwest Bloomington neighborhood instead.

Bloomington City Council members want more clearly defined conditions and enforcement measures before deciding whether to approve a liquor license that would enable a convenience store to reopenunder new ownership on the city’s southwest side.
The city council on Monday voted 7-0 to call for a special liquor commission meeting so it could reconsider Puma Enterprises’ request for a packaged liquor license to reopen the Park Pantry at the former West Side Food and Beverage at 906 S. Morris Ave. near Miller Park.

Petitioners submitted names of 73 people to the council on Monday asking the city to reject the store opening because of alcohol sales.

“We do support a deli, pizza shop or convenience store, particularly one that would sell fresh and wholesome food for our neighborhood,” the petition stated.

Nathan "Chiko" Russo of Bloomington said he helped collect some of the signatures. He told the council he would much rather have a grocery store in the neighborhood, noting there are already several places to buy alcohol nearby.

“We don’t want alcohol, any more alcohol sales in our neighborhood, point blank,” Russo said. “I think it’s obvious by the people who showed up tonight.”

Neighbors had complained of loud noise, speeding traffic and nuisances including public urination when the store was open under previous owners.

Several supporters of the new store also addressed the council to say they believe new owner Adjeet Singh will ensure the store is a better fit for the neighborhood. Singh has also owned and operated Hot Spot Grocery and Liquor, 1102 N. Hershey Road.

“That building sitting right now is an eyesore to the neighborhood,” supporter Carl Segobiano said. “It’s all boarded up. I think the neighborhood would more than welcome someone to come in there and make the building look presentable, have a nice store where they can go and get a quick item they need.”

Council member Scott Black said he was concerned to see so many people opposed to the store, but he doesn’t believe it’s fair to blame the new owners for the problems the store caused under previous ownership.

“I really do buy into the argument that the sins of the past should not dictate the future,” Black said.

Black said he believes the council should review stipulations every six months and be prepared to cancel the license if owners aren’t meeting conditions.

The liquor commission had recommended the city council require the store to close by 11 p.m. each night, install outdoor lighting and cameras and ensure that less than half of the store’s revenue come from alcohol.

Council member Jamie Mathy said he was concerned about the city’s follow through in enforcing sales percentages.

“We need a time box on everything of when things are going to happen, otherwise it falls off the radar and we don’t ever come back to it,” Mathy said. “I need more information on this or more details of how this is going to be done.”

Council member Kim Bray also suggested the city consider a ban on single-serve containers.

“Some of the concerns (from neighbors) relate to the size of some of the package liquor, the miniatures and the walkways as I’ll call it,” Bray said. “They can be consumed right away on premises or consumed as someone is walking down the street.”

Council member Joni Painter also asked the council delay the measure so that council member Jenn Carrillo could weigh in since the store would be located in Carrillo’s Ward 6. Black said Carrillo had an unforeseen emergency that caused her to miss Monday’s meeting.

Council member Donna Boelen spoke the most forcefully against the proposal. She explained the city should only grant the license if the owner can demonstrate a need. She added that when she visited the Hot Spot Grocery and Liquor which Singh had owned and operated, she said she was disappointed to see alcohol made up more than 50% of products for sale.

“There (were) snacks, but there was no refrigeration where you could buy milk or frozen pizza or anything like that,” Boelen said. “I look to the neighbors and the homeowners, the property owners.”

Black asked the liquor commission convene a meeting prior to the July 22 city council meeting to give the store owners an answer as soon as possible.

Mayor Tari Renner said he would try to schedule the meeting for this week. The commission is already scheduled to meet Tuesday, but that’s not enough time for the required 48-hour notice for all the parties involved.

Renner said it’s possible that tighter conditions such as banning single-serve containers or limiting the percentage of alcohol sales might be enough to satisfy the council that the store can open.

“That might matter, it’s also possible that that would still not convince a majority of the neighbors or the council,” Renner said.

Several nearby residents also complained they didn’t know about the proposal convenience store reopening because they weren’t notified of the liquor commission meeting.

Assistant city attorney George Boyle said the city issued 79 notifications, well more than what was required for those living within 500 feet of the business.

An attorney for Puma Enterprises, Richard Marvel, declined to comment after the meeting.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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