St. Charles bar owners brace for the possibility of an early ‘last-call’ ordinance
St. Charles’ historic district has two distinct identities.
During the day, people come to the three-block stretch of Main Street to browse in small shops and eat at locally owned restaurants. At night, 18 bars along the same street attract students from Lindenwood University and those looking for a good time.
But in recent years, that transformation after sunset has caused tension in both the historic district and the city.
On Tuesday, the St. Charles City Council will consider a way to address it: a proposal to prevent bars and restaurants on Main Street from selling alcohol after 11 p.m.
“We have hundreds and hundreds of other businesses on Main Street, and they’re not being very good neighbors,” said Councilman Dave Beckering, who sponsored the bill. “Urine, vomit, breaking glass windows; I mean, this has been happening for a very long time.”
But the plan is drawing criticism from both restaurant owners and patrons. Many bar owners, including Tory Knight, are worried that cutting off liquor sales at 11 p.m. will hurt business.
“A lot of these businesses are going to just go vacant,” Knight said. “There’s going to be a lot of open buildings down here.”
She’s the general manager and co-owner of The Lost Whiskey, a new restaurant and bar that opened in late April. The full-service restaurant serves Midwestern and Southern fare throughout the day and evening, but on weekend evenings, staff members clear the tables from the floor to make way for the dance floor.
Knight fears if the 11 p.m. alcohol cutoff goes into the effect, the restaurant's future could be uncertain.
“It’s really going to hurt us because the fact we’re brand new and we’re trying to build up to what these bars have already established,” she said.
While bars and restaurants could remain open after the cutoff, many patrons say they don’t see the point.
“People are not going to stay,” said Bridget Layman, speaking outside on Main Street on a recent Saturday night. “That’s going to lose revenue and business sales for St. Charles if they’re stopping liquor sales at 11 o’clock, because the people come down here at that time of night.”
At the same time, Layman and her friends say they haven’t noticed any crime along the street.
“I’ve not had any problem ever down here,” Layman said. “The cops patrol very thick, whether it's on horseback. I mean, they’ll bring the paddy wagons out there.”
The St. Charles Police Department said while violent crimes have not increased, there have been 181 misdemeanor crimes and nuisance issues reported along the nearly half-mile stretch of Main Street between January 1 and early June.
“When my officers see this stuff, they are told, 'Zero tolerance, take action,'” said Police Chief Randy McKinley. “If they’re belligerent or drunk or start fight the police and such, they end up getting arrested.”
While McKinley said some business owners have suggested they add more police patrols, he said it’s not that easy.
“More police present costs more money,” McKinley said. “We only have so many police officers, so that would force us to hire off-duty officers to come back and work off duty, which is a time and a half.”
Bar owners have met with city officials over the last several weeks to tweak the bill and offer ways to fund more officers.
One suggestion is that the percentage of food sales required be increased from 50 to 60 percent of the revenue earned. Another suggestion is that if a restaurant or bar exceeds the alcohol limit, the business be taxed more, and the revenue used to pay for more officers and security.
City Council members have met with the bar owners for the last seven months to create a comprehensive plan, said Beckering.
The alternative proposals will be presented to the city council on Friday, and a vote on the final version of the bill could happen as early as Tuesday.
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