STERLING – The city has cleared a path for large grocers to add beer, wine and slots to their shopping experience.

The City Council on Monday voted in favor of creating an additional liquor license classification for on-premise consumption of beer and wine at grocery stores. The ordinance applies only to stores primarily selling groceries in a space no smaller than 30,000 square feet.

The city drew up the ordinance after County Market made a request for the new G-4 license category.
The grocers have a G-1 license to sell packaged alcohol. The new classification doesn’t create additional licenses, but the G-1 license holders that meet the qualifications could upgrade to G-4 to allow drinking and gambling in the store. In addition to County Market, only Walmart and Kroger were mentioned as large enough to possibly qualify for the new license.

Mayor Skip Lee introduced the ordinance by saying that in-store consumption and gambling is a growing trend in the challenging retail food industry.

“The grocery business is in great flux and the emphasis is put on the whole customer experience,” Lee said.

Alderwoman Chris Wilen cast the lone dissenting vote, saying she had several problems with the ordinance.

“Do we know why this grocer is having problems? Is this the only way the store can attract more business?”

Wilen also would have liked to see more discussion on the matter before bringing it up for a vote.
Another council member said she initially opposed in-store consumption, but changed her mind. Her change of heart was centered around the council’s desire to do what it could to facilitate business retention. The council stressed the importance of keeping County Market as an anchor for future development in that area.

“I went to some stores in Chicago that did this, and there are separate areas for the bar and gaming,” Alderwoman Retha Elston said. “I wasn’t for this at the beginning, but I don’t want that business area to go dark.”

The matter of fairness became a focal point of the council’s discussion.

“I’ve seen this done in other towns and I don’t really have a problem with it, but my concern is that if you do this for one, you should do it for all,” Alderman John Stauter said. “It seems that we’re catering to one business.”

The new license doesn’t allow open alcohol to be taken outside the store. The initial G-4 license will cost a grocer $3,500; annual renewal fees are set at $1,000.