Oak Park voters could expand liquor sales at restaurants
Oak Park — If proponents have their way, restaurants in Oak Park soon will be able to offer patrons an expanded alcoholic drink list.
The "sale of spirits and mixed spirit drinks for consumption" will be one of two ballot proposals up for a vote in the May 5 special election. The other is the statewide proposal for a road tax.
The sale of spirits affects only local restaurants. Those in favor, including city officials, say it will help Oak Park become more competitive in attracting businesses. Detractors say it could cause more crime in the city.
"This is not a political, social or religious issue from the administration," said City Manager Erik Tungate, speaking at a town hall meeting Tuesday night. "This is purely a matter of economic development."
The city allowed alcohol sales in restaurants for the first time in July 2013, when the Oak Park City Council approved a measure to allow certain establishments meeting a long list of criteria to sell wine and beer. The decision was part of a move by city officials to revitalize Oak Park, a city that has been plagued by declining property values, budget shortfalls and a lack of business development over the past decade.
At the time, the ordinance change did not apply to selling spirits and would provide for only 20 tavern licenses. Two restaurants are currently licensed to sell beer and wine.
Zeana Attisha, who owns the Sahara restaurant at Coolidge and Interstate 696 with her husband, Saad, has had a tavern license for the last year.
"What we've seen at our restaurant is not that it is substantially making us all this money all of a sudden," she said. "It's letting our customers realize that if they want to have beer or wine with their meal now, that option is available. It doesn't handicap me anymore."
Resident Aaron Tobin, who lost a friend to a drunken driver, urged people to recognize the possible human toll, saying economic development is a "double-edged sword."
"By the city's own admission, we are short police officers," said Tobin. "When people get into a fight, or are urinating on the street, we will have three police cars at a restaurant instead of patrolling my streets."
Oak Park had been dry since 1945. The city of 29,319 allows liquor sales at eight stores, but previously those who wanted a drink at a bar or restaurant had to travel outside the city.
The city had previously voted against the sale of liquor in restaurants three times: In 1954, 1966 and 2005.