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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

Town Of Normal To Consider First COVID Fines Against Liquor License Holder

Koos letters
Mayor Chris Koos sent warning letters to two liquor license holders Nov. 16, including Joe's Station House.

Editor's note: The Joe's Station House hearing, initially set for Tuesday, has been rescheduled for 4 p.m. Jan. 5 at Normal City Hall.

The Town of Normal could soon issue its first penalties against a business for violating state COVID rules.

Joe’s Station House is scheduled to appear in front of the town’s liquor control commissioner during a hearing at 4 p.m. Jan. 5. It’s accused of repeatedly violating the state’s ban on indoor service since it went into effect Nov. 4. The owners of Joe’s and a second location in Bloomington have publicly criticized the state’s COVID-19 rules, which public health officials argue are key to slowing the spread of the virus. They’ve already been fined $600 by the City of Bloomington for similar violations.

The Joe’s location in Normal allegedly violated the ban on indoor service at least three times—on Nov. 6, Nov. 13, and again Dec. 11. That last violation—documented by police who visited the business—came even after Normal Mayor Chris Koos sent a warning letter Nov. 16 pleading for compliance.

The complaint and citation issued to Joe’s argues the governor’s executive orders constitute “state law and health and safety regulations” that apply in the town. Joe’s Station House could see its liquor license suspended or revoked, or face other disciplinary action, after the Jan. 5 hearing.

Joe’s is apparently the first business in Normal to face liquor-related penalties related to COVID. The City of Bloomington has collected nearly $5,000 in fines from at least nine businesses.

The Normal Town Council recently voted to waive liquor license renewal fees for hard-hit restaurants and bars next year, as long as they comply with state and local COVID rules.

Recipient of BIG grant money

Brothers Tony and Joe Wargo co-own Joe's Pub and Joe's Station House. They’ve been quite public in their opposition to the state’s COVID rules and their concerns about the resulting economic impact.

The businesses were approved for $20,000 each earlier this year during the first round of the state’s Business Interruption Grant (BIG) program, records show. The BIG grants were developed by Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois General Assembly to provide economic relief for small businesses hit hardest by COVID-19.

However, compliance with all relevant laws—including adherence to the statewide public health orders— is a condition for BIG program certification, according to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO).

“When we receive complaints about a business suspected of noncompliance, DCEO works closely with local and state authorities to review and try to resolve the matter,” the agency said in a statement. “For businesses which have received BIG grants and are either alleged or found in violation of statewide COVID-19 restrictions, DCEO will conduct a review of the situation, coordinating with local health departments for an evaluation of operational activity. In the case of (the Joe’s businesses), DCEO’s legal team has been in touch with the business owner as well as the McLean County Health Department to determine next steps.”

It’s unclear what would happen if DCEO determines Joe’s was noncompliant with the terms of its grants.

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