Yesterday, I shared some thoughts about whether our ban on alcohol in parts of Beverly and Morgan Park actually encourages dangerous behaviors — namely drinking and driving — due to the fact that there are no bars or restaurants that can serve alcohol within walking distance of many residents. Today, I want to consider another reason why the time has arrived to overturn the ban.
While safety should be our first rationale, economics should be our second. Hearing about the proposed big box development for the former Plaza mall site in Evergreen Park made me think about the impact such retail would have on the little guys on the Chicago side. Small businesses whose goods overlap with the big boxes might think twice about moving to Beverly. In that case, we should make it easier to add restaurants and bars to the mix. A well-run restaurant or bar can become the cornerstone of a community, especially if the proprietors are local. The older building stock on a thoroughfare like 95th Street can be a good incubator for such a business, but the ability to sell alcohol could help seal the deal. In other words, let’s succeed by positioning ourselves as the antithesis of the mall.
Also, as we think about allowing bars and restaurants to serve alcohol, we should also think about pantries, grocery stores and other businesses that might sell containers of liquor. Right now, it’s probably convenient for a person living around 95th Street to head to Binny’s, Meijer, Mariano’s or Pete’s to pick up alcohol for the home. But that person would be taking his or her money outside of Chicago. Allowing for a place to sell alcohol within walking distance for many people could help keep those dollars local.
Like I’ve written in the past, there is no silver bullet to turning around a neighborhood. While having a conversation recently, the man I was speaking with mentioned that these days, 103rd Street seems to be doing pretty well without alcohol sales in much of the area. I’d concede that, yes, I like what has happened along 103rd Street, and these positive changes have occurred even with a ban on alcohol sales.
But 103rd Street has strengths that 95th does not, one of which is that it is not in the shadow of an encroaching big box development pattern. Lifting the ban on alcohol sales alone isn’t going to do the trick. We need a combination of rational decisions. But repealing repealing it, at least along 95th Street, is one one strong step toward helping this area realize it’s full potential as a pedestrian- and small business-friendly district.
(In case you’re wondering, I’d say taming the high-speed vehicle traffic and allowing for more housing density would be just a couple of the steps, but you can read about those another time.)