While one wine shop owner was complaining to aldermen this week about Evanston’s high tax on liquor, another was preparing to open in a city-owned building.

Diana Hamann, owner of the Wine Goddess at 702 Main St., said the current 6 percent city liquor tax is “very harmful to her business.” She said that of 50 communities in the region that she checked, only seven impose a tax on retail sale of liquor, and none tax it at as high a rate as Evanston.

And her landlord, Allan Price, said the high tax rate gives people an incentive to go out of town to buy their liquor to avoid the tax.

But just last week the Evanston Library Board approved leasing the vacant retail space the city owns next to the north branch library to Lush Wine and Spirits, which has three existing shops in Chicago.

The 10-year lease, with three five year renewal options, calls for the tenant to pay for an estimated $175,000 in “vanilla box” improvements to the 1,500 square foot space, as well as another estimated $225,000 to equip it for the wine shop business.

The wine shop would be repaid for the vanilla box improvements, which a city consultant said are needed to bring the property to rentable condition, through a rent reduction over the first 10 years of the lease.

The tenant will also be responsible for paying property taxes on the space, and a memo from library staff estimates that the gross rent with taxes will work out to at least $25.33 per square foot per year.

A city staff report presented at the A&PW Committee meeting showed that Evanston has 108 businesses licensed to sell liquor — more than any of the other 14 suburban municipalities checked. But Evanston has twice the average number of restuarnts offering liquor for consumption on site and slightly fewer than the average number of package stores.

Alderman Don Wilson, whose 4th Ward includes the Wine Goddess shop, suggested that Evanston’s history of prohibiting liquor sales for more than a century may have colored the decision to set the liquor tax rate higher than elsewhere.

“We should not longer be in the position of punishing people for buying alcohol,” Wilson said.

But Aldeman Jane Grover, whose 7th Ward includes the Lush Wine and Spirits site, said she was concerned about the budget implications of any reduction in the liquor tax. Even a 1 percent reduction, she said, would cost the city more than $400,000.

To make up that amount of revenue, one option would be to impose a one percent increase in the city’s property tax .

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said that unless the council wanted to consider a lower tax rate for small shops, compared to supermarkets and other large retailers, the council should move on to other issues.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she opposed to such a change, and said the city does provide a break to smaller liquor outlets by charging them a smaller license fee.

The committee voted to refer the issue to the city’s Liquor Control Review Board, which has previously opted to not recommend any change in the liquor tax rate.

Assuming it receives city liquor license approvals and completes the renovation work, Lush Wine and Spirits plans to open at 2022 Central St. by next April.

Related stories

High tax hasn’t kept Evanstonians from drinking (10/27/14)

Wine shop owner says TJ’s is killing her business (10/10/13)

Wine Goddess wants liquor tax break (4/11/13)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. Also Sales Tax hurts
    Beside the Liquor tax, Wilmette only has an 8.25% sales tax vrs. 9 % for Evanston. Thus for many in north Evanston Foremost and Jewel on Greenbay are a good option.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published.