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Plan to expand alcohol sales at Tivoli Theatre stirs debate on Village Council

DOWNERS GROVE – A proposal to allow the Tivoli Theatre to serve alcoholic beverages at all movies rather than just special events stirred some significant debate Jan. 9 at the Downers Grove Village Council meeting.

Commissioner William Waldack voiced concerns about the proposal, which calls for full liquor service at the theater, 5021 Highland Ave. Currently, liquor is only served at the Tivoli during special events such as concerts or other live shows.

The Village Council is expected to vote on the matter at an upcoming meeting. The village’s Liquor Commission recommended approval of the request.

“Downers Grove is unique, and if we base all our decisions on what the neighbors are doing, then it becomes an automatic race to the bottom,” Waldack said.

Waldack added the village has a duty “to make not just millennials happy, but to make all of our residents safe, and that includes children, and adults in their use of alcohol."

The proposed ordinance would limit sales to one drink per person at a time. It also requires the Tivoli to expand its food service. Alcohol would not be served from the theater’s concession stand.

“I understand competition," Waldack said. "We also need to maintain standards.”

Waldack said he was particularly concerned about the presence of alcohol during movies where children are present.

“It’s a safe setting, and now what we’re being asked to do is to allow alcohol into the picture, and I do have some concerns,” he said. "Do adults need to have alcohol even at a showing of 'Bambi'?”

Waldack also said it would be difficult to control underage drinking at the theater.

“It’s quite possible that a 21-year-old can purchase alcohol and bring it back to their 18-year-old date,” he said. “There’s not a lot of controls in that environment.”

He said he would consider alcohol sales at evening movies or at films aimed at adults.

Willis Johnson, president of Classic Cinemas, the company that owns the Tivoli, said the theater would not sell alcohol during children’s movies.

“It’s very important to us to be responsible citizens,” Johnson told the council. “If we have a predominantly children’s event, we would not have alcohol service. That’s a choice we make.”

Commissioner Marge Earl said she was concerned about controlling the sale of alcohol at the theater.

“The newer theaters are set up for better monitoring and delivery of alcohol,” Earl said. “I don’t [believe] it’s a good idea at this point, just the way it's set up, to have the consumption happen in the dark, 1,000-seat theater with no real easy way to police it.”

Earl said she was open to limiting alcohol to the theater’s lobby.

However, commissioner Bob Barnett said movie patrons who purchase a drink would prefer to enjoy while watching the film.

“It doesn’t seem like a very reasonable solution to me,” Barnett said. “I think this is much ado about nothing."

Mayor Martin Tully said he was surprised by the response to the proposal.

“I was kind of surprised by the push back on this because there’s just no evidence to support some of the concerns,” Tully said.

He said there have never been problems at the Tivoli Theatre or the nearby Tivoli Bowl, which also is owned by Classic Cinemas, regarding the sale or consumption of alcohol.

“The petitioner has a long history here of being almost exemplary when it comes to responsible handling of liquor,” Tully said. “Since 2001, I cannot think of a single instance of a problem that has taken place with respect to the sale of alcohol at special events, which have included, on numerous occasions, movies that attract a lot of children. I can’t think of a better record than the one we’re looking at here.”

Tully pointed out the recently opened Fun Zone, 2011 63rd St., has a liquor license even though it primarily caters to children.

“We could legislate to the lowest common denominator here, but I just don’t see any of this ever actually manifesting itself,” Tully said.

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