Ultimately, it came down to serving beer in the park.
When a group of two dozen Shermer Road merchants signed a petition opposing Civic Foundation’s request to shut down their block during Northbrook Days this August, the village stepped in with a request to the park district.
Could , the group that organizes the five-day festival, be granted a special permit to serve alcohol on the Village Green?
The answer is yes, Village Manager Richard Narhrstadt announced at Tuesday’s board of trustees meeting—meaning Civic Foundation can host the festival without needing to use space outside the Village Green for the a beer tent, as they did last year. When Civic Foundation decided it wanted to try serving beer last year for the first time in the festival’s 85-year-history, the group asked the village for permission to shut down Shermer Road from Meadow Road to Church Street, in order to obtain a permit to serve alcohol there and avoid Park District bylaws, which prohibit serving alcohol on any park district property, with the exception of golf courses.
“We wanted to evaluate—can we get more people coming to the function?” said Civic Foundation President John Rupley, explaining why the group decided it wanted to serve alcohol. Although the festival has long had a healthy attendance from Northbrook residents, he said Civic Foundation believes serving alcohol may draw people from nearby towns as well. The annual five-day festival, which has been held on the village green since 1925, raises money for government entities, scholarships, nonprofits and other community groups.
The this year began when organizers met with Shermer Road businesses to discuss the logistics of shutting down the street early in March. At that meeting, business owners presented them with a petition signed by the owners of , , and , among other merchants. The group opposes shutting down the road, they said, because it hurts their business during the five days of the festival.
Caught between the request from Civic Foundation and the petition from business owners, the village board was stuck in a bind when it came to deciding whether or not to approve the request. At the March 8 village board meeting, President Sandy Frum asked the businesses and Civic Foundation to find a compromise.
“Representatives of Civic and the businesses have met on several occasions, but were not able to reconcile their different points of view,” said Nahrstadt, who presented a verbal report on the situation at Tuesday’s village board meeting. Because neither group could agree, the village stepped in and organized joint meetings with Civic Foundation representatives, Shermer Road businesses and the Park District, Nahrstadt explained.
As a solution, the village asked the Park District board of commissioners to take a vote on whether or not to allow alcohol to be served on the Village Green on a “one-time-only basis” during the festival. Following their approval, Civic Foundation withdrew its request to shut down Shermer Road and the businesses withdrew their petition.
“They did it in the true spirit of what’s best for Northbrook,” commented Trustee James Karagianis.
Although the Civic Foundation’s board voted to withdraw its request to close Shermer Road, not everyone felt it was a fair compromise.
The vote broke down 5-4, with some members feeling like they had been forced into a corner.
“It really wasn’t a compromise,” said Rupley. “It was just a decision we felt we had to make to move ahead.”
“Many members are very unhappy with the village and the merchants,” he added.
Although it ultimately came down to a liquor license, closing down Shermer Road is about much more than simply serving beer, he said.
“It allows us to expand the festival—to let us bring in things we couldn’t before,” he said. And ultimately, expanding the festival means more dollars contributed to local causes.
“Over the years, we have given millions of dollars to the community,” Rupley said. During it’s long history, Civic Foundation has bought the village’s first fire engine, paid for bats for Little League teams, bought freezer units for the Northfield Township Food Pantry and granted money to the library for its children’s section.
“We’ve done a lot of good for the village,” Rupley said.
Going forward, the village hopes to stave off controversy next year by hosting a meeting between Civic Foundation, Shermer Road businesses, the Park District and other stakeholders in September.
Ultimately, Rupley said he is optimistic about the meeting and the possibility of closing Shermer Road in the future.
“I’m always optimistic,” he said.