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High tax hasn’t kept Evanstonians from drinking

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A city staff report says Evanstonians don't seem to be deterred from drinking by the city's highest-in-the-region 6 percent tax on liquor sales.

The report says liquor tax revenue has generally increased for more than a decade, rising from a little over $1.5 million in 2001 to about $2.25 million in 2013. That's nearly a 50 percent increase, substantially more than the 31 percent increase in the cost of living over the same period.

A table from the staff report showing Evanston liquor tax revenue over the years.

The report also says that Evanston businesses tend to sell more booze per capita than businesses in other towns that do impose a liquor tax.

For example, liquor sales per person in Evanston are $555 per capita, while in Oak Park, where the liquor tax is half Evanston's rate, sales are $318 per capita.

The only exception to that pattern noted in the study was St. Charles, where a 2 percent tax generated sales of $1,504 per capita.

The available data doesn't indicate what proportion of sales in each community were to residents or non-residents.

The report was requested by Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, apparently in response to concerns expressed by Diana Hamann, owner of the Wine Goddess shop in his ward, who has argued that the Evanston liquor tax is unfair to businesses like hers, because many nearby communities — including Chicago and Skokie — don't impose a liquor tax.

The staff report doesn't include sales figures for communities that don't impose a liquor tax, but the report says that Evanston has proportionately more restaurants serving liquor and somewhat fewer package stores per capita than the average of 15 communities checked.

Evanston has a liquor license for every 677 residents, compared to an average of one liquor license per 903 residents for all the communities. But 83 percent of the licenses in Evanston are for restaurants, while on average only 65 percent are.

Among the stores selling liquor in Evanston for off-premise consumption, more than 85 percent of all sales occurred at retailers with more than 10,000 square feet of space, like Whole Foods or Trader Joe's.

The report is scheduled to be discussed at tonight's meeting of the City Council's Administration and Public Works Committee.

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