Suburban officials: sale of liquor at Starbucks good for business

For evening customers craving something a little stronger — at least in terms of alcohol content, Starbucks wants to be the place to be. But community leaders who have allowed the company to sell alcohol at some locations aren’t expecting much in return.

Burr Ridge is one of about 10 Chicago-area communities Starbucks has targeted for the Evenings Program, which was launched in 2012. Mayor Mickey Straub said letting Starbucks sell beer and wine at its 515 Village Center location has not resulted in an appreciable increase of foot traffic in the Burr Ridge Village Center shopping mall. But he has noticed couples and small groups enjoying a glass of wine or beer in the evening, particularly on the outdoor patio.

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“Because it’s located across from a very successful restaurant that specializes in wine — Cooper’s Hawk, I don’t think it’s increased foot traffic very much,” he said.

Other stores in the Chicago area that are selling or plan to sell beer and wine are in Burr Ridge, Plainfield, Crystal Lake, Algonquin, Schaumburg, Yorkville, Winnetka, Des Plaines, Glen Ellyn, Highland Park and Evanston. Sales of wine or craft beers start as early as mid-afternoon at some locations until 10 p.m.

Algonquin Village President John Schmitt, who also is the liquor commissioner, said the license for the location at 790 S. Randall Road was approved about a month ago. Although wine and craft beers are new products for the coffee chain, he said council members did not have strong objections to adding alcohol to the menu.

“After finding that Starbucks would be expanding food options as well, it was passed without further comment,” he said.

The company’s small plate menu includes such offerings as truffle macaroni and cheese, and bacon-wrapped dates.

Starbucks declined to comment, but said in an email that its Evenings Program is in about 10 locations in the Chicago area, with plans to add more.

The city of Des Plaines recently approved a liquor license for the Starbucks at 1427 Lee St. According to a city memo, coffee shops with approved liquor licenses may only sell beer and wine between certain hours on weekdays and weekends, plus the beverages must be sold and consumed in single-serving transparent containers and cannot be sold via a drive-thru window.

In addition, all employees selling beer and wine must be at least 21 and have completed Illinois training on serving alcohol.

Plainfield also recently approved the sale of beer and wine at the Starbucks at 23915 W. Main St. Village President Mike Collins said the store is well-suited for selling beer and wine.

“It’s a quiet place. They (Starbucks) perceive that it’s a place where people will want to come, have a glass of wine and relax,” he said.

Other suburban leaders haven’t seen much benefit but don’t think it hurts either.

Schmitt does not know if allowing a single Starbucks store in his village to sell beer and wine has increased foot traffic much. He, like Straub, said it also has not resulted in any significant boost to sales tax revenues. They both said they supported the Evenings Program.

David Henkes, vice president at Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based restaurant consulting firm, said it makes sense that Starbucks wants to tap the evening market, even if the gains are not tremendous.

“For them it’s a way to incrementally drive sales in a time where they aren’t really making anything,” he said.

He said the company needs to be strategic about where it places the stores that sell beer and wine.

“It needs to be in an area that (is) upscale and where there’s already foot traffic,” he said.

Unlike other communities that have let Starbucks get liquor licenses, Naperville is taking a wait-and-see approach. It recently denied an application for a liquor license for the store at 1200 S. Naper Blvd. Starbucks also had expressed interest in rolling out the beer and wine concept at four more locations in Naperville in the next five years.

Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico said the one of the reasons he would not support the concept is because it was not expected to generate significant sales tax revenue, according to a story in the Naperville Sun.

Neither Straub, Collins nor Schmitt said they were concerned about other coffee houses also seeking licenses to sell alcohol.

“It’s up to the individual business and whether we think it will work for us,” Schmitt said. “We are very restrictive (in terms of issuing licenses). But where a quality, well-run business is making a request, we have no issues with the legal sale of liquor.”

Read the story at Chicago Tribune

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