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Last month I wrote about local entrepreneur Kyle McHugh and his many projects, including a liquor store he was starting called Drinks Over Dearborn, slated to open at Dearborn and Erie in early September if all went well. It hasn't. McHugh got a letter last Thursday from Mary Lou Eisenhauer, director of the Local Liquor Control Commission, stating that his application for a liquor license has been denied because of written objections from area residents and from the 42nd Ward alderman, Brendan Reilly.
In the letter, Eisenhauer further finds that granting a license to the store would "have a deleterious impact on the health, safety, and welfare of the surrounding community," which has apparently been "plagued with problems including loud late night disturbances, disorderly conduct, traffic congestion, public intoxication, and other incidents which endanger the safety of the residents."
That there have been problems in the area isn't surprising--the store is on the same block of Dearborn as Excalibur and Vision and directly above the Joynt, a bar and nightclub that opened in May. But as McHugh says in a letter he sent in January to everyone living within 250 feet of the store (and another he sent in June to the boards of all the condo buildings in the area and everyone in the building the store is in), Drinks Over Dearborn is intended to be a high-end "beverage boutique" specializing in unusual and hard-to-find wine, beer, and spirits. It won't serve liquor (just sell it in closed containers), will close at 10 PM, and being on the second floor, has no street entrance--to get in, you have to be buzzed into the building. It hardly seems like a threat to the neighborhood, especially considering what's there already.
Still, residents have apparently opposed granting a liquor license to the store, writing letters to that effect to both Alderman Reilly and the Local Liquor Control Commission. Because of policies that protect the privacy of complainants, McHugh isn't allowed to see the letters and can't find out what specific concerns people have. He's talked to lots of people in the neighborhood, he says--he lives across the street from the store and is a member of the River North Residents Association--but the ones he's talked to all support him. After he sent out the letters of intent in January, two people contacted him with questions about the store. He responded to them and said they seemed satisfied; other than that he hasn't heard from anyone in the community with concerns. Those people, he says, are going straight to the alderman's office and the liquor control commission.
McHugh has 20 days from the date the liquor license was denied (August 11) to submit a "plan of operation" to Eisenhauer explaining why his business will not have a "deleterious impact" on the community. In addition to drafting that plan, he's sent out an e-mail to his contact list and posted a plea on the Drinks Over Dearborn Web site asking people to write letters of support to the Local Liquor Control Commission, and is hoping to get more letters of support from members of his community one from president of the River North Residents Association.
McHugh says he's confident he'll be granted the liquor license--eventually--but he's worried about how much longer it will take. Each week he can't open the store is another week it's not bringing in any money. He started the application process back in November after he signed the lease for the Drinks Over Dearborn space--he couldn't even apply until he had a five-year lease on a commercial space--and it's taken him nine months of filling out forms and then waiting months for them to be processed and approved just to get this far (because of zoning restrictions on his neighborhood, the process took longer than it would in other areas of the city). He had to get liquor liability insurance before he could apply for the permit and buy all the furniture for the store before it could pass the fire inspection; all his savings plus $50,000 in loans are sunk into the space he's leased.
"You just have to press ahead in the interest of trying to get started and make a profit," McHugh says. "There's no going back now."
CORRECTION: This post originally said the Joynt is a 4 AM bar; in fact it closes at 2 AM (3 AM on Saturdays).