DOWNERS GROVE – Alcoholic beverages will be served during movies at the Tivoli Theatre following a 6-1 vote Jan. 16 by the Downers Grove Village Council to expand liquor service at the theater.
Commissioner William Waldack cast the lone vote against the proposal that allows the theater at 5021 Highland Ave. to serve alcohol at all movies rather than just special events.
Waldack first raised objections to the proposal at the Jan. 9 council meeting. He reiterated those concerns before the Jan. 16 vote.
Waldack praised the Tivoli as a “special gem of Downers Grove” and credited Willis and Shirley Johnson, the theater owners, as key contributors to the community.
“This isn’t about the Tivoli,” Waldack said. “This isn’t just about having a glass of wine at a movie. This is about the village’s duty to set standards. It’s the duty of the village government to protect people from the irresponsible minority that will give alcohol to minors and who will overindulge.”
He added the decision to expand the liquor license is not a “no-brainer.”
“When village government starts cruise control on things, things start going awry,” Waldack said.
One of Waldack’s primary concerns is monitoring consumption of alcohol after the sale.
“The alcohol will be taken into a darkened, more-than-1,000-seat auditorium, where the controls we have long demanded will be lowered," he said.
He added that “responsibility for control will be in the hands of underage, untrained individuals," referring to ushers at the Tivoli.
“It’s a lowering of standards,” Waldack said. This is irrefutable.”
Waldack went on to say the council’s decision must apply across the board. Now that the Tivoli's license has been amended, the council would have to approve requests to sell alcohol at Park District concerts or concession stands during youth baseball and soccer games.
“I mentioned the Rotary Fest," Waldack said. "Why not hard liquor? Why the silly rules? Why confine people to a small area where they are just a few steps away from refills? Why not allow alcohol around the fest?”
Finally, he said, the sale and consumption of alcohol around children is inappropriate.
“The idea of protecting children from being surrounded by alcohol. That’s gone,” Waldack said. “We used to think standards and laws applied equally. Dash that thought.”
The theater will not serve alcohol at movies aimed at children, Willis Johnson said at the Jan. 9 meeting.
Commissioner Bob Barnett said liquor licenses have evolved over time.
“They’ve all been, one could certainly argue, lessening of standards, certainly lessening of restrictions," Barnett said. "What they’ve done is they’ve been an effort by the village to facilitate and be welcoming to business ideas that happen in our community.”
Commissioner Marge Earl, who initially voiced some concerns about the proposal, said she was confident the theater owners would enforce the existing standards.
“There’s nobody else in town I’d rather try this with than the Johnsons,” Earl said. “They’ve been upstanding members of our downtown community for many, many years.”
Commissioner Greg Hose echoed Earl’s comments.
“You’ve got an ordinance here that makes a lot of sense,” Hose said. “I think you’ve got an exemplary applicant here, who’s got a great track record and are just wonderful citizens.”
Mayor Martin Tully defended the council’s decision.
Over the years, Tully said, the village has created liquor license classifications for various types of businesses such as wine boutiques and sidewalk cafes.
The Tivoli was granted a liquor license in 2009 for special events.
“There’ve been no issues,” said Tully, who serves as the village’s liquor commissioner. “The standard is responsibility. Demonstrated responsibility. I take issue and disagree with the conclusion that there’s any lessening of a standard here. The controls aren’t changing. It’s just now there will be opportunities for the sale of the beverages.”
He added there are sanctions and penalties enforced when a business does not comply with a liquor license.
The ordinance limits 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.