TAKING THE LEAD: Amara Enyia, the executive director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, at an Aug. 2 bill signing ceremony for legislation she and other West Side business leaders helped push. | Screengrab

Whether or not some businesses are exempted from a decades-long prohibition against the sale of alcohol within 100 feet of institutions like churches, military stations, schools and hospitals is now a matter that will be decided by local liquor commissioners — not state lawmakers — thanks to an effort initiated by business leaders in Austin. 

Amara Enyia, the executive director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, joined leaders with the Austin African American Business Networking Association, the Small Business Advocacy Council and state lawmakers, including Gov. Bruce Rauner, for an Aug. 2 bill signing ceremony held at a café in Chicago.  

The Liquor Control Act of 1934, which became a law not long after Prohibition was repealed, demanded that any exemption from the 100-feet regulation require approval by the General Assembly. 

In a statement, Rauner said that that entrepreneurs “should not have to pass a state law to open a new business,” adding that SB 2436, which passed with bipartisan support, “streamlines this process and empowers local officials to decide what is best for their communities.” 

Elliot Richardson, the SBAC founder and president, said that the old statute “was an obstacle to the growth of local economics, often in areas where new opportunities are needed most.” 

He also noted that the new law “reforms this process so that rather than painting all communities with a single brush, local leaders can determine the restrictions that best serve their businesses and residents.” 

At the press conference, Richardson said that the new law would “spur economic development in the city of Chicago and throughout the state.” 

During last Thursday’s press conference, Enyia explained that the legislation “started with a conversation” on the West Side “about how we can ensure that our commercial corridors are able to thrive and that we do not have hindrances to having the kind of businesses in our neighborhoods that support the local economy.” 

State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (12th), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said during the press conference that “the archaic” law required farmers in downstate Illinois to give “the green light for a liquor license for a small business here in the city of Chicago or the 12th District.” Feigenholtz added that “68 pages of the Liquor Control Act are exemptions. 

“Today, we end that,” she said. “We begin a new era of providing small businesses with an opportunity to expedite this and to realize local control.” 

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