Diana Hamann, owner of the recently opened Wine Goddess shop in Evanston, wants the city to drop its 6 percent tax on retail liquor sales.
Hamann told the city's Liquor Control Board today that the tax is unfair because other nearby communities -- including Skokie and Chicago -- don't impose such a tax.
Hamann said the problem is especially severe when Wine Goddess customers are considering buying a large quanity of wine for a wedding or other event.
"If somebody's going to spend $1,000 on three cases of wine, why wouldn't you drive the five miles to Binny's or Schaefer's?" Hamann said. "In their mind that merits the trip across the border to Chicago or Skokie."
Hamann, who's been running her shop for about three months, said, "I'm trying to think how I'm going to make this thing a viable Evanston presence for the long haul, and I'm never going to stay in business with just the guy who buys one or two bottles at a time."
But Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, the city's liquor commissioner, said the city counts on the $2 million in revenue the liquor tax brings in.
"I don't want you to go out of business, and would like to help," the mayor said, "but the reality here is that you're asking us to fire a couple of people or raise [property] taxes and force more people out of their homes."
She noted that the city has already cut more than 10 percent of its staff in recent years because of tight financial times.
This year's city budget projects an increase in liquor tax revenue from $2.07 million to $2.35 million as a result of the anticipated opening of Trader Joe's and the start of liquor sales at Whole Foods.
Ted Mavrakis, who was at the meeting to seek expanded hours for his World of Beer franchise downtown, seconded Hamann's concerns.
"I'm with you," Mavrakis said, adding that the owner of a liquor store on Dempster Street in Skokie has told him that he gets a lot of extra business because of Evanston's liquor tax, and because of Evanston rules that bar the sale of small bottles of liquor.
At his own establishment, Mavrakis said, he tries to hide the impact of the liquor tax by building it into the advertised price of his beers, rather than adding it as a separate item on the bill.
City attorney Grant Farrar said Evanston isnt' the only community with a liquor tax -- but Hamann said the only such tax in the immediate area is a 1 percent tax imposed by Wilmette.
Tisdahl said she's willing to raise the issue with the city's Economic Development Committee, but she didn't sound encouraging about the prospects of the City Council agreeing to such a change.
As the meeting was breaking up, liquor board member Dick Peach offered Hamann another suggestion.
"What you need to do," Peach said, "is open a wholesale warehouse in Skokie, while keeping your retail store in Evanston."