Champaign bars, liquor stores failed 25% of underage compliance checks by Illinois Liquor Control Commission last year

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Police in a crowd at KAMS during Halloween weekend in 2023. Photo by Stephanie Wayda.

The state of Illinois Liquor Control Commission has made enforcing and documenting underage drinking on its website a priority since 2021 — and enforcement of liquor laws at Champaign bars and liquor establishments has ramped up.

A CU-CitizenAccess review of Illinois Liquor Control Commission (ILCC) monthly reports found a handful of Campustown bars and liquor stores that are more regularly inspected and, in some cases, cited for violations. 

In Illinois, you must generally be 21 years old to enter a bar. But in Champaign and Urbana, bars are open to ages 19 and over — mainly catering to the large population of students attending the University of Illinois. 

Last year, 23 businesses failed a liquor control underage compliance check in Champaign, some multiple times. The businesses that failed multiple checks in 2023 were Illini Pantry, the Campustown County Market and Champaign Food & Liquor. About half of the 23 businesses are located in Campustown and four of them are bars.

Overall, there were 102 compliance checks in Champaign last year. Businesses failed on 26 of those checks by selling alcohol to underage participants who were recruited from area high schools and colleges to participate in the enforcement effort.

The majority of the failures, about 75%, occurred last fall between August and December. There was one compliance check per month in Champaign during this time, except for August and October when there were two. 

The monthly reports feature every Illinois town that was checked that month. When that town is checked, the state checks multiple addresses listed on liquor licenses, which are held by businesses that sell alcohol. Only the establishments that failed the check are listed by name and address in the monthly reports, and the reports show if they have prior violations.

These raids are part of “ongoing undercover and cooperative law enforcement operations conducted by agents of the Illinois Liquor Control Commission (ILCC), local law enforcement officials and underage participants recruited from area high schools and colleges,” the November 2023 report said. “ILCC agents also work with local and state law enforcement agents to focus on communities with a high incidence of underage liquor sales.”

Because only bars and stores that fail show up on the monthly reports, the names of the businesses that passed the check are omitted. However, the recent compliance checks web page, a separate ILCC report that lists all compliance checks in one city on one day, does list the businesses that passed. But these reports only date back about six months according to the web page. 

Patron verification procedures, commonly known as “bar raids” among students, involve law enforcement checking for age compliance through wristbands and preventing underage drinking. Deputy Liquor Commissioner Jeff Hamilton of Champaign said the checks, led by local law enforcement, aim to ensure liquor license holders follow local and state laws while maintaining patron safety.

In Champaign’s Campustown, the University of Illinois Police Department spearheads recent bar checks, supported by the Champaign Police Department and the Illinois Liquor Control Commission, Hamilton said. 

Campustown bars are checked several times per semester, Hamilton said. But the city will also investigate tips that a licensee is violating the law at the local level.

“We want all of Champaign’s businesses to be successful, but to always operate in a lawful and safe manner,” Hamilton said. 

County Market is listed in August 2023 with two prior violations but only one is listed on the online reports in 2023. The same thing occurs with Joe’s Liquor on Bradley, where none of the previous violations are shown on the public website, but it is listed as having two previous violations.

Champaign-Urbana, the twin cities that house the University of Illinois, sits approximately 50 minutes away from Bloomington and Normal where Illinois State University is located. But those cities weren’t visited in 2023.

The state reports ramped up last year, especially for Champaign bars and establishments that sell liquor. The checks are based on tips from community members, the state liquor commission reports said. 

These reports have featured Champaign and Urbana on at least nine different days in 2023 alone. In August and October, Champaign was visited twice.

Industry Education Manager Nicole Sanders at the liquor commission’s office said she was unsure when the reports specifically started and did not know why they became public digitally on its own web page in 2021. 

“The information is public knowledge and has been for approximately 10 years based on my inquiry,” Sanders said of the reports.

Indeed, the Illinois Liquor Control Commission has released these reports for over a decade. In the past, the reports were released as press releases and can be found online by searching the commission’s press release archive.

Only monthly reports from 2021, 2022, 2023 and 2024 are listed on the official web page.

The State Liquor Commission’s website lists the general laws and regulations surrounding establishments and bars that sell alcohol. The website has several divisions to learn more information, including licensing, legal and enforcement and includes press releases and newsletters.

Scott Cochrane, who owns multiple Campustown bars including The Red Lion, did not return multiple requests for comment.

The following Champaign businesses failed their ILCC underage compliance check in 2023:

  • County Market #515 at 331 E Stoughton St., twice
  • Illini Pantry at 606 S Sixth St., twice
  • Champaign Food & Liquor at 517 E University Ave., twice
  • Art Mart at 1705 S Prospect Ave.
  • BarrelHouse 34 at 34 E Main St.
  • Campus Pantry at 112 E Green St.
  • Circle K #4701403 at 59 E Green St.
  • Collective Pour at 340 N Neil St.
  • El Toro Bravo at 2651 W Springfield Ave.
  • Goldy’s 2.0 at 123 S Mattis Ave.
  • Green Onion Asian Market at 2020 S Neil St.
  • Green St Pantry at 308 E Green St.
  • Hollywood Liquors at 512 S Neil St.
  • Illini Inn at 901 S Fourth St.
  • Joe’s Liquor on Bradley at 1807 W Bradley Ave.
  • KAMS at 102 E Green St.
  • Liquor Land at 32 E Green St.
  • Murphy’s Pub at 604 E Green St.
  • Neil St. Blues at 301 N Neil St.
  • Pia’s Sports Bar and Grill at 1609 W Springfield Ave.
  • Pour Bros. Craft Taproom at 40 E University Ave.
  • Quality at 110 N Neil St.
  • Second Chance at 102 E Green St. (same address as KAMS)

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Robert Bietsch

    Just think if they spent that much time and money fighting violent crime!

  2. Joe

    Ohh looks like the mayor didn’t get her cut by all the bars on campus as usual.