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PedalPub Fights for Chicago Business License, Might Move to Evanston

By Erica Demarest | October 25, 2013 8:12am
 Matt Graham, who operates PedalPub in Chicago, said the city won't give him a business license. 
Matt Graham, who operates PedalPub in Chicago, said the city won't give him a business license. 
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LINCOLN PARK — Since PedalPub launched in Chicago in 2011, the company has conducted more than 400 pedal-powered bar tours — all without a business license.

"We've applied four different times over three years," said Matt Graham, the company's Chicago manager. "They keep coming up with different reasons for why we can't do it."

Minneapolis-based PedalPub operates pedal-powered bars (think: a mobile tiki bar) in nearly 30 American cities.

PedalPub launched in Chicago in early 2011, but has faced myriad city licensing issues. With the next license appeal slated for November, Graham has launched a social media campaign to garner Second City support.

"It would look really foolish for Chicago to ban vehicles that are green and healthy and perfectly legal in every other major city," he said.

Graham said the licensing issues started in February 2011, when he applied for a limited business license with the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.

The agency allegedly told Graham that since PedalPub carried up to 16 people, it would need a charter/sightseeing vehicle license. The only problem: Those are for motorized vehicles.

City officials told PedalPub it needed to install safety measures like windshields, seatbelts, seatbacks and a four-wheel braking system, Graham claimed.

The Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection did not respond to requests for comment.

"Honestly, that isn't going to make it any safer," Graham said, calling the measures "ridiculous." "We don't even go 5 mph — not even bike speed."

In 2011, after several rounds of denials and appeals, PedalPub was forced to honor all the appointments it had booked that year — for free — Graham said. In 2012, "at the advice of our lawyer," the company went ahead with normal operations as if it had a license.

But it didn't.

The company was fined for operating without a license and for a "deceptive business practice," Graham said. PedalPub had run a Groupon deal and failed to include its unlicensed status in the fine print.

This year, licensing issues have pushed PedalPub into the western suburb of Berwyn. Tours still operate in Chicago, but Graham said fears of fines might move the company to Evanston in 2014.

"We can't advertise or be a part of the community the way we want to," he said. "We're always waiting for the shoe to drop."

Mike Bomher, general manager at Trinity Bar, 2721 N. Halsted St., said PedalPub has been great for business. The company stores its bikes in Trinity's garage, and each tour stops and starts at the bar.

"It would hurt us" if they moved to Evanston, Bomher said. He estimated that Trinity makes at least $100 per PedalPub group; some days bring as many as six tours.

"We've had some weekdays that are slow, and [PedalPub] made our day," he said.

Other bars would be happy to see PedalPub leave.

"If you’re giving these guys booze, and then they’re jumping on the bicycle outside, then having more booze, there's a liability issue," said Tony Griffin, who owns Harrigan's Pub, 2816 N. Halsted St. "It's a silly idea, and I didn't think it'd last anyway."

Graham said the next license appeal is slated for Nov. 5. He said he'd hate to leave Chicago, but has drained PedalPub's reserves on lawyer fees.