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This Bud Isn't For You: License Plan Allows for Craft Beers Only

By Alisa Hauser | March 6, 2013 4:54pm | Updated on March 7, 2013 8:35am

EAST VILLAGE  — A local grocer has been offered a liquor license with a twist: no mass market beers like Bud or Old Style and no cheap wines, either.

The owner of Garden Gourmet Market, 1130 N. Ashland, said he’s considering the deal that would allow him to sell only craft beers and higher-end wines.

The agreement, fashioned by grocer Maher Farhan and Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), would allow Farhan to sell alcohol in a neighborhood that is mostly dry.

The restrictions are designed to ease fears by neighbors that the market could create alcohol-related problems.

Moreno worked with the East Village Association board to develop the plan, which must be approved by Gregory Steadman, the City of Chicago's Liquor Control commissioner.

Farhan declined to comment on the specifics of the offer but said he and his father, Ziad Farhan, feel it's "a step in the right direction."

Such restrictive "plans of operation" are typically applied to trouble-prone shops in which the city is threatening to revoke their liquor licenses.

Not so in this case. The restrictions, which prohibit the sale of all spirits, non-craft beers, malt brews and fortified wines, is a "proactive" measure, Moreno told a packed community meeting Monday night.

"I'm very proud of how we worked with the community,” he said.

Some saw the plan as a measure of fairness: A CVS at 1200 N. Ashland, which opened in January 2012, was allowed to sell liquor and packaged goods in the area where 20 liquor moratoriums are in effect.

As he had previously at numerous community gatherings, Farhan assured residents that the majority of his clientele are professionals who come in after work and "buy dinner for that night" and are "asking for wine and craft beer, not hard liquor or 40s."

Farhan added: "I'm here for the long haul."

Members of the East Village Association voted 22-5 in favor of the Garden Gourmet deal.

As part of the negotiation with residents, Moreno agreed not to support any package liquor or tavern license requests in the East Village Association boundry through the end of his aldermanic term in February 2015.

"We are taking a risk, but getting something back as a community — the freedom to not take this issue on for another two years," said Neal McKnight, president of the East Village Association.

Steadman, the city liquor control commissioner, reached by phone, would not comment on the specifics of the East Village plan and would not say if any other licenses in the city prohibit the sale of non-craft beers.

The agreement specifically prohibits hard liquor, “fortified wines” such as Wild Irish Rose and Night Train, malt liquors such as Colt 45 and Cobra and “other products that are intended to provide high alcohol content at a low price.

Only single servings of cans or bottles of beer produced by breweries defined as "craft brewers" by the Brewers Association can be sold.

The brewer's association defines craft brewer as small, independent and traditional with annual production of 6 million barrels or less.

After the meeting, reactions were mixed.

"If there's ever a reason to lift a moratorium, this is it," said East Village resident Tom Tomek, who lauded Farhan for being a responsive local independent business owner.

East Village resident Tom Lenz said that he voted against the deal because he feels it will "lead to more exceptions, and it gives other establishments an opportunity to say you gave an exception [to this business]."