Already facing a weak economy and still reeling from the statewide smoking ban, Forest Park bar owners say the last thing they need right now is a fee increase. But that may be what they get as the village council is poised to hike the cost of a liquor license for the first time in 14 years.
“It’s not a very good idea to do it right now,” Dan Fleming, the owner of Slainte Irish Pub, said. Fleming estimated his revenues are down 15 to 20 percent from a year ago, a decline he blames mostly on a poor economy.
At the March 10 village council meeting Mayor Anthony Calderone, who by law also serves as the village’s liquor commissioner, proposed hiking the basic liquor license fee for a tavern by 52 percent. The basic fee for a Class A license would increase from $1,312.50 to $2,000. After some discussion the council voted to table the mayor’s proposal and is expected to again address the issue at the next village council meeting on March 24.
A number of bar owners addressed the village council and told public officials that this was not the right time for a fee increase.
“I understand there is never a good time to raise any fees,” Calderone said.
Calderone noted that the liquor license fee had not been raised since 1995 and said that Forest Park’s liquor license fees are less than most neighboring communities. According to a village prepared survey of 20 nearby communities, the average liquor license fee for a tavern is $2,048.
Calderone’s proposal would also raise the application fee for a new liquor license from $100 to $500.
But Matt Mathey, the owner of Murphy’s Pub, said his business is down 30 to 35 percent and he can ill afford a stiffer fee.
“I’ve never seen it this bad,” Murphy, who bought the bar four years ago, said. “If things were better, I wouldn’t even see it as an issue because I know our liquor license is pretty low compared to some of the other towns. But right now the economy is bad. I’m barely making bills right now. It’s like you’re spinning wheels, it’s like, what am I doing this for. I’m lucky my wife has a good job or I wouldn’t be here because there is no way you can raise a family on what’s going on right now.”
Pioneer Tap co-owner Ted Thomas had a blunt reaction when asked about the proposed increase.
“It sucks, it’s terrible,” Thomas said.
Before tabling the March 10 motion to approve the increase, village council members suggested ways to make the fee easier to bear for owners of smaller bars like Murphy’s Pub and Pioneer Tap.
Commissioner Mark Hosty, who manages Healy’s Westside on Madison Street, said he will abstain from voting on the proposal, but suggested allowing the annual liquor license fee to be paid in installments.
Commissioner Rory Hoskins suggested imposing a 40 percent increase on large taverns, a 30 percent increase for restaurants, and a 20 percent increase for small bars.
Commissioner Marty Tellalian suggested that restaurants pay a lower fee than taverns.
“It is the large drinking establishments that are putting the greater burden on the town with parking and impact on the neighborhoods,” Tellalian said. “I do think that for smaller establishments their fees should be less.”
Jimmy Jodoin, the owner of Jimmy’s Place, agreed with Tellalian and said that restaurants and small bars should pay less for a liquor license than large taverns.
“The little hole in the wall kind of bar, I think they should be paying less than a Doc Ryan’s, Healy’s, or Molly Malone’s because those are the places open until three in the morning and really kind of rock the house, where we’re out of here by 11:30 p.m.,” Jodoin said. “Our guys aren’t in the street at three in the morning throwing up in the flower pots.”
Healy’s is open until 2 a.m. and Molly Malone’s is open until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
Brian Sullivan, the owner of Doc Ryan’s, doesn’t agree that large bars should necessarily pay more. He said the size of the bar shouldn’t determine the liquor license fee. Bigger bars have more overhead than small bars, he said, and Doc Ryan’s already pays additional fees because it has two serving stations and an outdoor seating area.