Liquor store has Millstadt buzzing

Several business owners addressed the Millstadt Village Board in front of a standing-room-only crowd Monday night to discuss a proposed liquor store to be built on an empty lot at 500 E. Washington Street.

The topic was previously discussed prior to a June 27 meeting of the Millstadt Zoning Board, where a variance for the building was to be considered although it had been withdrawn before the meeting. 

While last week’s article on this proposal indicated a Sav-On Liquor & Wine store was planning to open in Millstadt, that was later determined not to be the case.

The owner of the property in question, Amit Patel of Fairview Heights, told the Republic-Times he plans to build a 5,000 square foot building which would house a “liquor and tobacco store,” but said he has no plans to have any video gambling machines on site.

Per a BARBERMURPHY real estate news release, this one-acre tract at 500 E. Washington Street was sold by East Washington Street Property, LLC to Patel’s LLC on Oct. 31, 2022. 

It was the site of the former Ray’s One Stop in Millstadt. 

The LLC that sold Patel the property was managed by Millstadt residents Edward, Kathleen and Weston Hock.

Patel added he has been in conversation with a local individual who is interested in leasing 1,000 square feet of the building to open a coffee shop if plans are approved.

Patel, who also owns Fairview Liquor in Fairview Heights, Freeburg Liquor in Freeburg and Smithton Liquor in Smithton, said he is awaiting review and approval of architectural plans for the Millstadt building by the village.

During Monday’s board meeting, three Millstadt business owners spoke in opposition to the proposed store.

The first to speak was Jen Estes, co-owner of Pour Decisions Wine, Spirits & Gaming at 15 N. Jefferson Street.

“There are many issues surrounding how this has come about… but I’ll let others speak for themselves,” Estes began. “The board and the town leadership are put in a place to serve and protect its residents and the community and its businesses. At this point, (Pour Decisions co-owner Corey Famula) and I honestly don’t feel very protected. Honestly, we feel a little bit betrayed.”

Coincidentally, the owner of Ray’s One Stop was Corey’s father Ray Famula, who currently sits on the village board.

Pour Decisions opened in March 2022, only six months prior to Patel’s property purchase. 

“What that said to us is that there may have been conversations regarding that business prior to ours opening, which we would have never done had we known that there was another store possibly already  in the works,” Estes said.

Estes continued by saying she felt the business model for the proposed store would “undercut” other Millstadt stores in an attempt to force them out of business.

“We’re not talking about adding new tax revenue here. We’re talking about splitting the revenue up between the businesses that are already here,” Estes said, also suggesting a number of other businesses could be built at the location that would be more beneficial to the community.

She also alleged Patel had once used strong-arm tactics with a Red Bud business owner.

According to Estes, the Red Bud businessman “was threatened – literally threatened – by (Patel) to either sell or be forced out. Is that truly the kind of business owner that we want in this town? I would hope that everyone here says ‘no.’”

She then pointed to a petition signed by over 700 Millstadt residents who oppose the proposed store.

“These are not bandwagoning s–t disturbers, but rather Millstadt business owners, lifelong residents, teachers, parents, family members of people who sit on this very board who have signed that petition,” Estes said. “If the town’s leadership doesn’t care to listen to what the residents who are on those pages say, then what incentive is there for the businesses that are here to stay?”

Estes said local business owners offer another benefit to the community as a whole. 

“A person very close to that (real estate) transaction had a conversation with me. When he spoke to (Patel), he told him about the people who had just opened a liquor store … and what good people we were. And do you know what that man, Mr. Patel’s response was? ‘I don’t f—ing care.’ I can tell you all, Corey and I f—ing care! These people who are here to support us f—ing care,” Estes concluded.

Elle Heiligenstein of Hoffen Funeral Home addressed the board about the value of having community members operate Millstadt businesses.

“I’m here tonight for a little bit of a different reason. Obviously this will not affect my business whatsoever,” she conceded. “I’ve never had children, yet I’ve spent thousands of dollars at Christmas on gifts for children I will never meet. I’ve never been hungry. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on food for the people of this community who cannot afford groceries.” 

She then referred to the previous speaker, Craig Norrenberns, who operates IGA grocery stores in Millstadt and Red Bud.

“When COVID 19 first came… (Norrenberns) called me and said ‘can you please help us with deliveries?’” Heiligenstein recalled. “I went and volunteered for three, four months delivering groceries – no charge – while I paid my staff to do it as well. This business… do you think they’re going to do it? Hell no.”

Heiligenstein then pointed out the efforts of other local business owners to  support community efforts.

“Every time I’ve been anywhere, I see Pour Decisions with a donation. Every time I do Meals on Wheels, the bags come from IGA. Every time I’m at a silent auction, there’s IGA. Do you honestly think that a conglomerate business is going to come in here and do that? They will not,” Heiligenstein said.

Norrenberns spoke to the board about the need for the village to establish procedures which would allow it more flexibility in deciding which businesses can be allowed in Millstadt.

“What I would like to see is more control for the city, for the mayor to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when it is appropriate,” Norrenberns began. “Do we want to protect our small towns, our communities? Yes. There needs to be more layers that protect you from being sued.”

He then referred to repeated attempts by national retail chains to purchase the Millstadt and IGA locations.

Norrenberns pointed out there are now two Dollar General stores in Red Bud and will soon be two in Mascoutah, suggesting those types of businesses negatively impact cities.

“Do you know who’s not going to show up to a meeting like this? People from Dollar General. Because they’re not part of the community,” he said.

Norrenberns also credited  Millstadt Mayor Michael Todd for putting the store proposal to a vote with the village’s liquor commission, although Todd later said that was not the case.

Norrenberns said engaging the liquor commission would be “wise” and “give a broader scope of representation.”

After the meeting, Todd told the Republic-Times there had not been an application for a business license or a liquor license submitted for Patel’s proposed store.

“I don’t know what these people are talking about,” Todd said regarding to a potential liquor commission vote.

Patel also confirmed he has not applied for either license yet, as he is still waiting for building plans to be approved.

“I will build if I’m allowed to. It’s up to the city,” Patel said, adding he would have set up a similar business in Millstadt four years ago if there had been a building or property available at the time.

Patel also referred to the assertion he will drive current stores out of business.

“It’s just false,” Patel began. “As of right now (the existing liquor retailers) have an advantage. I’m still taking a chance as a business owner since I have to construct a new building and that will cost more.”

Patel estimated the proposed store is still over a year away from being a reality, pending village approvals.

“I want to bring more business,” Patel said. “A lot of people go out of town to get what they need. I’m trying to keep the money in Millstadt.”

He also addressed the concerns of market saturation, noting he is still in business in Fairview Heights despite a Total Wine & More liquor retailer being less than a quarter of a mile from his location.

“I’m not selling groceries. It’s strictly a liquor store,” Patel said. “Big business will come in no matter what. If I knew how to run a restaurant, I would do that, but I only know how to run a liquor business.”

Patel also cited the lack of disturbances at his Fairview  Heights location.

“I keep it clean,” Patel concluded.

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Scott Woodsmall

HTC web