ST. CHARLES – Many St. Charles businesses this month agreed to pay the increased price of staying open late.
A total of 24 establishments applied for a late-night permit to stay open past midnight, according to city records. Of those businesses, 16 of them applied for a 2 a.m. permit.
This is the first year the city has implemented a late-night permit system. The new rules were the result of talks that began with former St. Charles Mayor Don DeWitte about over-serving alcohol and police calls for rowdy downtown activity.
The St. Charles City Council on April 21 unanimously approved the 24 permit requests in advance of the new liquor license year, which began Thursday.
“We said it would be a brand-new year, and everybody starts fresh,” current Mayor Ray Rogina said. “Everybody got what they wanted with respect to the time.”
Bar owners and managers said they really didn’t have a choice to change their hours if they wanted to maintain their business. There was no question Ray’s Evergreen Tavern, at 1400 W. Main St., was going to apply for a 2 a.m. permit, manager Melanie Hesenflow said.
If customers saw an earlier closing time at Ray’s, they would leave early and spend most of their night elsewhere, or not come in at all, Hesenflow said.
“It’s quite a difference from last year ... for the same liquor license we’ve always had,” Hesenflow said.
This year, Ray’s liquor license cost $1,200, but the cost of the yearly permit to stay open until 2 a.m. was $2,300. This brought the total to $3,500, a $900 increase over what was paid for the license last year before the permit system.
In contrast, the other late-night permit option of 1 a.m. would have cost $800 in addition to the $1,200 license cost. That was the intent of the permit system – to get businesses to choose the 1 a.m. option, Rogina said.
Regardless of how late the businesses stay open, Rogina said the city will remain vigilant with problem patrons at night. The goal is to see a reduction in police calls, he said.
“We want downtown to be a fun place to be – we’re not looking to change that,” Rogina said. “We’re looking to change the overexuberance.”
The businesses continue to use existing protocols to curb bad behavior. Employees at Ray’s will call cabs for patrons and pay for the ride if necessary, Hesenflow said. Customers can leave their cars in the parking lot if they give the business advance notice.
Hesenflow also keeps in touch with other bars if they have a difficult customer headed toward downtown, and vice versa. The doormen at the Beehive Tavern and Grille, at 204 W. Main St., know which folks have a reputation or those that have been banned from other bars, Beehive co-owner Steve Baginski said.
Baginski notes that businesses serving alcohol already pay a 2 percent liquor tax implemented by the city. He was not pleased with the cost of the late-night permits, but sees no other alternative.
“To be a competitive business, you got to pay it,” Baginski said of the permit fee. “So we do.”
By the numbers
The city of St. Charles this year implemented a late-night permit system for businesses that want to stay open past midnight.
$1,200: Cost of liquor license renewal, open until midnight only
$2,000: Cost of liquor license and $800 1 a.m. permit fee
$3,500: Cost of liquor license and $2,300 2 a.m. permit fee