(The Center Square) – Cities across the state are allowing restaurants to sell packaged liquor for curbside or delivery orders as a way to offset the hit from the state’s prohibition of dine-in service, enacted earlier this month to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker suspended dine-in service at bars and restaurants on March 15. It was part of a series of orders, including a stay-at-home order closing all businesses considered nonessential, the governor said were designed to curb the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus that emerged in late 2019.

Springfield Alderman Chuck Redpath said this week the city’s mayor should relax liquor control to allow curbside, drive-thru and delivery of packaged liquor.

“If they’re selling food out the door maybe they can sell a six-pack at a time to try to relieve some of their stock so they can try to recover some of this,” Redpath said. “A lot of them have a build-up of alcohol. Some of them have stock that’s seven, ten-thousand dollars and they can’t get rid of it and some of it’s going to go bad on the date.”

And while the Illinois Liquor Control Commission authorized the return of beer back to the distributor if it was delivered before March 23, other cities around the state have started allowing restaurants with liquor licenses to sell packaged alcohol for curbside pickup or delivery.

In Bloomington, the mayor had to sign a couple of emergency orders allowing curbside package alcohol sales for off-premise consumption after the governor issued his order prohibiting dine-in service at restaurants.

“The Council was anticipated to take action that would extend that order at tonight's meeting, which was subsequently canceled and will be rescheduled for later this week,” according to Bloomington's municipal website.

The Bloomington's City Council rescheduled a meeting to possibly codify that action Thursday.

Pat Fruin, owner of Flingers Pizza in Bloomington, said the move definitely helps make up for the loss of half his business after the suspension of dine-in service.

“All these bills are still coming in, but certainly being allowed to sell packaged alcohol has certainly helped us keep the lights on, so to speak,” Fruin said.

He said he’s selling a variety of different beverages for people to consume off-site.

“So, we’re doing growlers, we are doing some cans and bottles, but primarily what we’re doing is growlers,” Fruin said. “We’re known in town for having a really good draft selection.”

Fruin said his business already had the infrastructure in place for food delivery, but he worried other restaurants that don’t have that infrastructure were finding it difficult to get by.

In Rockford, Mayor Tom McNamara said establishments with liquor licenses from the city can sell unopened alcohol through the end of the health emergency. He said the move provides relief to restaurants and bars, “which are taking a tremendous hit on their revenue with the current restrictions.”

Crystal Lake authorized a measure that allowed curbside, delivery and carry-out sales of alcohol “in the original package, of such alcoholic liquor, beer or wine as they may be otherwise authorized to sell in accordance with the license issued to such licensee.”

Springfield’s mayor was reviewing the options with an update later this week.

Bob Myers with the Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois said it was an important move.

“Every retailer out there, especially the on-premise [liquor license holders], are really, really suffering right now and this would be a big, big help to these retailers to allow them to sell at curbside,” Myers said.

Myers said he expected more cities in the state to allow such sales during the orders set to last through April 7.

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.