In effort to reduce downtown vagrancy, Elgin liquor commission denies license for Nick’s to reopen

Elgin’s Liquor Control Commission denied a liquor license request Wednesday afternoon for new owners to operate in the currently vacant Nick’s Liquors in the Clock Tower Plaza off National Street. (Mike Danahey / The Courier-News)

officials voted against a business that had plans to open as a packaged goods store in the spot near downtown Elgin in Clock Tower Plaza that formerly held Nick’s Liquors.

Wednesday afternoon, in its role as the city’s Liquor Control Commission, the City Council unanimously moved along denying a request for a Class B license to Speakezy Liquors, Inc. The business was to be run by Alexander Giannopoulos as owner and Alex Matsas, who owns the Walnut Speak Easy Bar and Grill on the near west side of Elgin, as manager. Gianopoulos is manager at the Walnut.

Elgin Corporate Counsel, Bill Cogley said the move was part of a broader plan to reduce vagrancy and issues related to it, particularly in the downtown area.

"The last thing we need is to expand package liquor sales downtown," Cogley said.

Matsas noted he had problems with vagrants loitering in a lot near his restaurant when it opened eight years ago and that he chased them out, as he would do at the Nick’s location. He intended to keep the same name because of the $3,000 to $5,000 cost to replace the sign up now. But he was open to discussing replacing it sooner.

Matsas said he probably was going to cash paychecks, as Nick’s did.

Neighborhood activist Dan Palmer told the commission that the area near Nick’s has improved since the spot closed in February.

"It’s the wrong location. You don’t need two liquor stores in one place (Clock Tower Plaza). And at Butera (the grocery that sells alcohol), they lock up hard liquor," Palmer said.

Police also told the commission they have seen a dramatic drop for calls for service near the Clocktower Plaza since Nick’s closed.

Council member Corey Dixon said that the Walnut is a wonderful establishment, "but man, is your timing bad. We’re trying to turn things around downtown."

Cogley noted that in April the commission revoked Nick’s license as the establishment owed the city more than $22,000 in back taxes prior to its closing. Cogley also told the commission that Nick’s owed its landlord about $64,000 in back rent, which the new business was going to cover as one of the terms of taking over the spot.

In another move to curb issues related to vagrancy and alcohol the commission also unanimously agreed to disallow sales of any hard liquor smaller than a fifth and of single bottles of beer in the city’s downtown. It also is planning to update its lists of banned brands of beer and malt liquor typically sold in bigger bottles and that which have higher alcohol content than other brands.

"It’s a long time coming. It’s about time," Council member Terry Gavin said of the downtown ban plan.

Cogley told the commission there have been 111 open liquor violations in Elgin through the end of May, with 90 percent of those happening downtown.

Council member Rich Dunne said he sees evidence of downtown vagrancy on occasion on his treks from the National Street Metra station back and forth to his job in downtown Chicago. At the Elgin station, he said he has seen vagrants sleeping in the depot, liquor bottles and cans littered about and sometimes even human waste left in the area.

The owners of JJ Pepper’s convenience store along State Street in the downtown area Wednesday also has asked the commission to expand its liquor license to one that would have allowed it to sell hard liquor along with the beer and wine it already is allowed to sell. That, too was unanimously denied by a 7-0 vote, with Tish Powell and Carol Rauschenberger not present for the meeting.

Afterward, JJ Pepper’s co-owner Paul Sayre was philosophical about the denial.

"It is what it is," Sayre said.

All liquor commission items voted upon Wednesday should be up for discussion at the June 26 Elgin City Council meeting.

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