The owner of the Sweet Spot, one of two bars in North Riverside that once were allowed to close at 3 a.m. daily, pleaded with village officials on Sept. 7 to reverse their decision in June that set closing time at 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and at 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Randy Womack, who has owned the Sweet Spot at 2531 Desplaines Ave. for 16 years, said the reduction in hours has “affected us tremendously” and that while he hadn’t yet laid off any staff, he would soon be forced to.
“I wanted to really beg you to try and reconsider,” Womack said. “There’s only two bars, myself and Bar-Tini [about a block north] that have this late license, and if something happens that’s bad at one of these two bars, you can suspend our license. … Believe you me, I take my license as a privilege.”
Womack said that receipts at his bar were down by a good deal, using sales taxes his business pays to illustrate the decline. He said that in May, his sales tax receipts were about $950. In the months since the order to close early, those have fallen steadily – to just under $900 in June and to about $305 in July.
While he didn’t have final figures for August, Womack said he expected the amount of sales tax produced by his bar that month to be less than $300. Video gambling tax revenue that goes to the village has also been impacted, he added.
But, Mayor Joseph Mengoni indicated it will still be some time before village trustees revisit their decision to roll back closing times for the two extended-hours bars in town. The earlier closing times will remain in place at least through the end of 2021.
Mengoni told the Landmark that the village board would most likely discuss whether or not to make the earlier closing times permanent during a committee meeting in November before making a final decision at their board meeting in December.
He said he has met once already with Womack and plans another meeting that will also include Village Administrator Sue Scarpiniti soon.
“Part of the issue is [Womack] hasn’t been able to be there very often, and he’s relying on what other people are telling him,” said Mengoni, regarding the number of complaints about noise and other incidents earlier this year.
Womack during his plea Sept. 7 to the village board to resume regular closing times downplayed any issued related to the bar.
“To my knowledge, we’ve had no problems or anything this year,” said Womack, who added the bar’s manager requested police reports on Sept. 3, but hadn’t obtained them yet. “I don’t think there’s more than one or two police reports. There were about 20 calls, probably for noise or something, but not anything serious at all.”
But it was police who requested that the village board consider rolling back the late closing times, said Mengoni, due to the number of responses they made to the two late-night bars.
“It was one of the first things that shift asked for,” said Mengoni who was elected mayor in April and brought the request to trustees the following month. “Why are we the last-call community?”
Police argued that a five-year study found 60 percent of all calls to the late-night bars occurred between 1 and 3 a.m. and that the number of calls appeared to be increasing. As of May 23, police had responded to 23 calls for assistance, compared to 24 total during 2020 (when bars were shut down for long stretches due to COVID-19) and 31 total calls in 2019.
Among the responses to the Sweet Spot in 2021 was an April incident in which a man who reportedly had been drinking at the bar used a spare tire to extensively damage a vehicle, which he also allegedly tried to enter, parked outside.
That man also reportedly got into a physical altercation with another motorist and eventually was arrested later that morning several blocks away trying to break into another vehicle.
The village board’s action came in the wake of Forest Park’s decision earlier this year to significantly curtail bar hours, a decision that has been eased somewhat in the past month or so.