Perhaps the most confusing and muddled item on City Council’s Jan. 9 agenda was a proposed amendment to a section of Evanston’s liquor code that prohibits the sale of single containers of beer “unless the volume of the container is equal to or greater than forty (40) fluid ounces.”
The amendment seeks to make it illegal to bundle two or more beers together. While Council introduced the measure, it did so with instructions to clarify the law to allow for mix-and-match bundles of beer – exactly the concept that on the surface the amendment seems to want to prohibit.
The measure originated with the liquor control board after Whole Foods, represented by Manuel Galvan of Vantage Point Marketing, asked for clarification of Evanston’s rule.
“It came to Whole Foods’ attention that there were places in Evanston where you could buy single bottles of beer under 40 ounces,” Mr. Galvan told the RoundTable. Whole Foods wanted to know whether Evanston’s ordinances allowed such sales.
“No” was the emphatic response from the liquor commission. Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said an investigator was sent to several Evanston outlets attempting to buy single bottles. No Evanston store sold single bottles, she said. Anecdotally, said Mr. Galvan, Whole Foods also heard that some outlets were bundling together two or three containers and selling them.
Neither the staff memo nor Mayor Tisdahl (who is also the City’s liquor commissioner) cited any evidence that such a practice was taking place.
Nonetheless, the City’s response was to craft an ordinance making it unlawful to “bundle, tape, package, or otherwise manipulate single containers of beer for sale as a set.” When the new ordinance came before the Administration and Public Works committee, the committee introduced it and voted to send it to City Council without any discussion.
After the committee vote, Jeff Hill from Cost Plus World Market spoke about a promotion at Cost Plus that allows customers to try several different microbrew or craft beers at once without having to buy complete six-packs of each beer. The Committee listened, apparently perplexed, but did not reconsider its vote or discuss the matter.
At the City Council meeting, Mr. Hill was back with sample containers used by the store’s customers to “Build-a-Six-Pack.”
If the ordinance passed, he said, the Evanston Cost Plus would be the only Cost Plus location in Illinois that could not offer its customers the Build-a-Six-Pack promotion. “We actively market this,” he said.
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, first informed Council that the Administration and Public Works Committee voted before hearing Mr. Hill, then asked for an amendment to the ordinance that would allow Cost Plus to continue offering the Build-a-Six-Pack.
City Attorney Grant Farrar tried to determine what language the amended ordinance should contain, but struggled, as the Cost Plus program offers exactly the type of bundling together of single beers that the ordinance seeks to prohibit. He asked Council if a warm beer exception would work (Cost Plus sells only warm and not refrigerated beer), but Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, objected. If the Cost Plus program is excepted, then no one seemed to know exactly what the ordinance would prevent.
Ald. Wilson then wondered aloud why there was a ban on individual beer sales in the first place. Saying that he might want to purchase a single bottle of beer, he asked, “Why not?” Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said that there are many good reasons for such a ban, and she would tell him after the meeting rather than take meeting time to do so.
The ordinance was thus introduced, with instructions to Mr. Farrar to create an exception allowing Cost Plus to do exactly what the ordinance seeks to prevent.