CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Lori Lightfoot is introducing a bevy of proposals geared toward helping Chicago restaurants and other businesses as they seek to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as new protections for consumers and workers.
The mayor also is proposing a permanent 10 p.m. cutoff for alcohol sales at liquor stores, grocery stores, and convenience stores. Those businesses faced a 9 p.m. cutoff during the pandemic until Lightfoot moved back that curfew to 11 p.m. last fall. Previously, stores with packaged goods licenses had been allowed to sell most types of alcohol until 2 or 3 a.m.READ MORE: Jussie Smollett Trial: Defense Attorney Calls For Mistrial And Accuses Judge Of Lunging At Her; Judge Denies Claims And Motion
Lightfoot’s proposed change says “No person holding a package goods license shall sell, permit to be sold, or give away any package goods between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. on Mondays through Sundays, except that a supermarket may commence the sale of package goods at 8:00 a.m. on Sundays.”
Asked about the proposal for that 10 p.m. cutoff on liquor sales at stores, the mayor said she’s open to compromise, “but what we’ve been trying to balance throughout this is giving packaged good stores an opportunity to sell alcohol, but also acknowledging the real quality of life issues that sometimes creep up around these businesses, where you’ve got loitering, you’ve got other illegal activity that happens around them.”
The mayor said she’s heard from many complaints from residents and aldermen alike about illegal activity that happens late at night around some stores that sell alcohol.
“There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence from across the city that some of these businesses frankly weren’t being good actors, and they weren’t taking care of what needs to be done to protect the quality of life of people in the neighborhoods,” Lightfoot said.
Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) used a parliamentary maneuver to shuttle that proposal, along with much of the mayor’s business relief measures, to the City Council Rules Committee when Lightfoot introduced them to the City Council on Wednesday. Lopez’s move would essentially push back potential approval of the ordinances by a month, so the Rules Committee could assign the package to the proper committee for a debate and vote.
According to published reports, Lopez said he was concerned that the mayor’s package includes lots of items people weren’t aware of before she introduced her plan to the City Council, and his maneuver would give aldermen more time to review it.
Lightfoot called Lopez’s explanation “nonsense,” saying her package was based more than 100 meetings with various business groups, community groups, and aldermen. She also noted that she was simply introducing her proposal today, not asking aldermen for a vote.
“I think it’s, frankly, disingenuous for Alderman Lopez, who picks and chooses what he decides he’s going to be involved in, to say aldermen haven’t heard enough. That’s nonsense, when you’re talking about the mere introduction of a package that … are desperately needed” she said. “Alderman Lopez may not care about the urgency of helping our small businesses and moving things forward, but the rest of us do, and we will.”
The package of ordinances the mayor dubbed the Chi Biz Strong Initiative includes proposals for cutting down on red tape for various permits and licenses, a 15% cap on third-party delivery fees charged by services like GrubHub, $10 million in grants for businesses hurt by the pandemic, and allowing shops to advertise on sidewalks using A-frame signs.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Disturbance Brings Chance Of Rain-Snow Mix To Our North Overnight
The mayor’s proposal also would set up a payment plan for businesses that have city debt to make it easier for them to renew their licenses.
The plan also would expedite licenses for restaurants that open in vacant spaces once occupied by shuttered restaurants.
“Our businesses and workers have experienced a hell of a year, numerous challenges over the course of this past year brought on by the pandemic and the economic meltdown that followed, making it all the more important that we step up, work together, and address these challenges with an equal number of solutions,” Lightfoot said Wednesday afternoon.
The mayor said, while the city is well-positioned to recover from the pandemic, “in order to continue this upward trajectory, we must become the most small business friendly city in the country,”
“Now that we are seeing what we hope is the end of this horrible pandemic, we must use this as an opportunity to take bold action, stepping away from the idea that we will be able to return to business as usual,” she said.
In another potential boost for businesses, cocktails to go also would become permanently legal for restaurants and bars in Chicago. However, the mayor is also proposing a permanent 10 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales at liquor stores, grocery stores, and convenience stores.
According to the mayor’s office, the package includes:
- Licensee Relief Program: Over $10 million in targeted grants for businesses hurt by the pandemic.
- Cap on Third-Party Delivery Fees: A 15% cap on fees that third-party delivery companies can charge restaurants will be extended until after 180 days after all COVID restrictions have been lifted.
- Debt Relief Program: Businesses with city debt will be able to enter into a discounted payment plan in order to renew their licenses and continue operating.
- Expedited Restaurant Licensing: New restaurants in previously closed restaurant spaces will benefit from an expedited license issuance process, helping fill empty restaurant spaces and enabling new restaurants to open 2-3 weeks sooner.
- Legalization of Sidewalk Signs: Retail businesses will be able to use A-Frame signs and advertise their business from the sidewalk.
- Expedited Permit Process: Shaving up to two months off the 150-day wait for businesses to get permits for signs, awnings, and other critical business infrastructure.
- Taxicab Reforms: Allowing standard taxicabs to stay on the roads for 10 years, up from the current 7-year limit; and fuel-efficient taxis to stay on the roads for 15 years, up from 10, in an effort to expand the pool of eligible taxicabs by 20% and save the industry up to $20 million in costs in 2021 alone.
- Expanded Workforce Opportunities: Lowering barriers for non-violent ex-offenders to work in the public vehicle and hospitality industries.
- Consumer Protection: The mayor’s office says it will seek to address public safety and nuisance issues by setting a permanent 10 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales at liquor stores, grocery stores, and convenience stores, and prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco.
- Wage Theft Protections: An ordinance to protect against wage theft, and help workers recover an estimated $400 million in wages are stolen “by bad-faith employers every year.”
- Chain Business Worker Support: Ensure a fair minimum wage for chain business workers by preventing employers within a single unitary business group from undercounting their employees.
- Domestic Worker Support: Requiring anyone who hires “domestic workers” to enter a written contract to pay them at least $15 an hour.
- Paid Sick Leave Enhancements: Overhauling the city’s paid sick leave ordinance, to include “caring for a family member with a closed place of care, classroom, or school.”
“Each of these measures will significantly help to streamline and improve the interactions between our businesses and our city government,” Lightfoot said.
Illinosi Restaurant Association President Sam Toia hailed the mayor’s proposals, saying they would help set up bars and restaurants for success as the city prepares to more fully reopen this summer.MORE NEWS: View Live Radar
“We’re seeing more light at the end of the tunnel. The steps the mayor put forward today will help us get there,” Toia said.