Downtown Bloomington: A FORMER business owner

by:  Diane Benjamin

This morning I had a conversation with John Shank, owner of the  Chocolatier.  His business has moved out of downtown Bloomington, but he still lives there.  John has been asking the City to control the weekend drinking for many years, his business has been vandalized and his car was a victim of a hit-and-run.  John sent this video to the City, it includes his car getting hit.  Also included in the video is public urination and general mayhem.  The video has over 370 views, it was sent to me both by John and another viewer.   The video is worth your time to watch.  Mayor Renner plans to spend your money downtown.  When only bar owners are willing to move in, and good businesses are moving out, the City would be throwing your money away on trying to create a destination!  It is already a destination, one that protects some bar owners and provides kids an outlet to drink.  John brought up an interesting point:  the party buses are there to prevent the kids from driving drunk.  What they really do is allow the kids to be over-served.  John’s email exchange with Mayor Renner is below.

He sent this email along with the video:

Dear Council Members,

Where’s the change in the downtown?  If you look at just two nights Thursday and Friday, it looks as bad as it did under the previous administration, prompting the above question.  You need to take a good look, this youtube video, this is why you cannot retain daytime businesses, and will find it hard to attract anything other than more sleaze and bars.  Council seems to be following the same failed bar policies, and look how shabby Bloomington has become under eight years of the previous administration.  Its night and day compared to Normal, and you guys are at the helm.  Either you will get blame for staying the current course, or you can change course something better than what citizens are seeing and viewing.
John Shank
Downtown resident

Mayor Renner responded with these 2 emails:

Date: Sat, 15 Mar 2014 18:32:24 -0500

Subject: Re: Downtown and Change
From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]; [email protected]


As I reread my previous email, there were two number 4s.  So, the overall

list should’ve had 12 rather than 11 items.

Tari Renner

On Sat, Mar 15, 2014 at 6:23 PM, Tari Renner <[email protected]> wrote:

Well John, I have to say that almost everything has changed in our policy agenda and moving forward in Downtown Bloomington. The Mayor and Council  have 1) passed the Downtown revitalization plan that was sitting on the shelf for over four years,  2) passed a pedestrian bike plan which will link Downtown to the bike trail and IWU’s campus (that part will be finished within a month actually), 3) we rewrote the entire liquor code ordinances to clarify restaurants versus ‘bars’ and entertainment venues 4) we have been very aggressively enforcing liquor code violations (including a $14,000 fine that’s a record for the city of Bloomington),  4) we approved increasing the number of cameras Downtown from 5 to 20,   5) we approved moving ahead with plans to power wash Downtown on Thurs, Fri and Sat evenings, 6) we eliminated the open container exception for party buses so that people don’t arrive drunk in our Downtown, 7) we have moved aggressively on problem bars such as Mugshots and Main Street to try to be sure they play by the rules, 8) we are moving toward acquiring more property to ease the parking problem in Downtown and prepare for future economic development, 9) we are making great progress in obtaining grant money for a Route 66 Visitor’s Center at the History Museum (that would be an incredible boost for economic development and promoting Route 66 tourism, 10) we are making progress in obtaining private investment in a Downtown Hotel, and 11) we are moving ahead with planning improvements to the Library that would involve expanding South of the current location (that could provide an important anchor in Southeast Downtown).

So, given that there has been tremendous change and progress on Downtown issues, I am puzzled by your question.  Progress doesn’t mean there won’t be bad nights from time to time in the ‘bar scene.’  That’s liable to happen as long as it’s an entertainment hub.

If you’ve got some positive ideas for other ways we can make progress, I’m all ears!


Tari Renner

Mayor of Bloomington
109 E. Olive
Bloomington, IL 61701

John responded:

To: [email protected]
Subject: RE: Downtown and Change
Date: Sun, 16 Mar 2014 13:53:27 -0500


The steps you have taken are far more positive than your predecessor and are welcomed for sure.  But some very fundamental questions are not being addressed as a former downtown business person, and as a downtown resident for over 16 years, I live in the middle of all this and operated a successful business in the downtown despite several structural obstacles.  We were one of the people who stepped up to the plate and invested in the downtown only to have it turned over to the bars during the past eight years.  And the videos are just some of the “bad nights” we see as residents quite regularly.  Not to mention the recent documented inconsistencies videoed of the “get tough” on the liquor code and other violations, even under your administration.
1.  I know people are not pleased to see the videos out there that show all of the negative things that are happening in the downtown in connection with the bars and bar patrons.  But, the fact remains these incidents are happening, they happen on a regular basis.  If you look closely at the video in which the fights broke out in front of Fat Jacks, try to count the sheer number of people holding camera phones videoing the fights, the police tazing bar patrons and making arrests, the ambulances, etc.  They are able to spread these negative images almost instantaneously via youtube, facebook, and twitter to all of their friends and social connections.   The problem is not the messengers, the problem is the message they are able to send, which is emanating from whole bar situation which is not being addressed.  Or we would not be seeing all of these images so regularly.   Yes, you are addressing it more than your predecessor, but some rather glaring questions remain.
Why is the City spending such large sums of the municipal budget just on the bar scene?  How can the City justify these expenditures on just a handful of your downtown businesses?  According to your own city report, the city is losing money on this policy, not to mention chasing away current businesses, as well as deterring future investment by other non bar related businesses and it definitely is deterring people from wanting to reside in the downtown when they live and see these incidents?  Not to mention the costs to private businesses and individuals from the vandalism and property damage, and loss of property value caused by how the whole downtown “bar scene” is allowed to operate.  These incidents are costing the City far more than the paltry sums raised by alcohol taxes and license revenues.  And it’s not just the figures, walk around you can see it how the downtown has deteriorated.  People say all the time, “look at what Normal has done, look how nice it is, since they got rid of most of the bars.”  Pretty basic observation.   So, why does the City council defend all of this ‘bar scene’ nonsense like it was the Alamo?  When the consequences to city are just not worth it.   And you planning on subsidizing even more with bar litter pickup and power washing as well.  How much more are Bloomington taxpayers going to have to subsidize a handful of bar owners making more money off our taxes?  The city is not benefiting, quite to the contrary.  So taxpayers are puzzled by this defend the bars and a handful of bar owners to the last man approach to our tax spending????
2.  Downtown parking.  Talk to any of the downtown non bar related businesses.  You say your working on getting additional parking for the downtown, great, that is a positive step in the right direction, but what are you doing NOW to help them?  You have funds to make sure cars not blocking party bus zones and enforce ordinances to help the bars at, but, you don’t have enough funds to provide your non bar businesses with Saturday parking enforcement? Not to mention the shorting of parking enforcement during the week.  The signs posted all over the city say 8:00 am to 6:00 pm.  But, in fifteen years in downtown, I have never seen any enforcement of downtown daytime parking beyond 4:00 pm?  Two to one and half hours of parking loss per day at a conservative estimate of just three days a week amounts to 29 lost 8 hour parking days per year?  Now take away an additional 52 days of lost parking to your downtown daytime businesses because you do not enforce your Saturday parking.  A total of 81 lost parking days.  Tari, where is there any positive economics behind those kinds of numbers?  And do you really believe potential investors in the downtown are not going to figure this out?  And do think for a minute your current downtown non bar businesses are not feeling the financial pressure this adds to their already difficult issues of vandalism, property damages due to bar patrons?  So what are you doing NOW to give these business people parking relief?  Yet, you still manage to give the bars their parking relief.  And it is well documented that on Saturdays, bar patrons and bar employees are taking up many of the parking spaces all day.   Again, how do convince your current downtown non bar businesses that this fair, or even an economical place to invest?
3.  Aggressive enforcement of the liquor code violations, yes and no.  No one will dispute that some enforcement of the liquor code violations have occurred, and that your fines on the violator send a powerful message, the penalties will be high if you get caught.  But, as downtown residents we see many things that undermine that credibility every week, which make these events look more like window dressing and show piece events, that say yes we are on top of this.  But, we have so many videos showing not only bar customers violating the Smoke Free Illinois Act, but many bar employees violating the ordinance.  Not to mention several videos of the Bloomington police standing around socializing with bar doormen while par patrons are right there, violating the law right in front of the police.  No tickets, no warnings, public safety officials openly letting innocent bar patrons entering and exiting the bars being exposed to harmful second-hand smoke, unnecessarily.  Since this Act became law it has been ignored by the City of Bloomington, and sheer number of videos available corroborate this as fact.   And as the number two cause of cancer deaths, unnecessary exposure to second-hand smoke to our young people, students and non students should be a major priority at venues where this is occurring regularly.  But, it is ignored by the City of Bloomington and law enforcement.
As a college professor and a father, I would think this would have a greater priority than it appears to have, protecting young people from the would be violators of this law.  Why is the City of Bloomington and its law enforcement ignoring the law?  So, the message is that if the police are not enforcing the laws outside of the bars, then they are not enforcing the laws inside of the bars.  And in looking at the statistics for the number of “bar checks” over the past couple years, and the number of citations written, pretty much confirms that assumption.
And the most glaring evidence of the liquor codes not really being enforced is the sheer number of drunk and over served people on the streets every weekend.  Over-serving is against the state liquor code.  Yet, that one seems to be never enforced.  And yet, much of the vandalism and property damage is blamed on drunk bar patrons, which did not get drunk all by themselves, the bars were an active participant.  Not much evidence that one is being addressed.
So, based upon the evidence we see each week, we are far from convinced real aggressive liquor code enforcement is really happening.  We see it occasionally, and at only certain venues.  When we know for sure it’s happening at many other ones, yet they seem untouchable.
We see you are doing more than your predecessor, and the positive changes are welcomed, but these seem like baby steps compared to the reality of what we still see going on every weekend.  And we are not seeing the real crux of the issue of the over serving being addressed, that seems to lead to most of the issues with the downtown.  And this only feeds the negative reality, images and perception of downtown Bloomington.  And as you know, it does not have to be that way.
John Shank

7 thoughts on “Downtown Bloomington: A FORMER business owner

  1. Well, like you said a few weeks ago Diane, if the guy can’t compete with the businesses that are able to “survive” the weekend, then he should leave and let someone who is set up shop. Competition sans government regulation/interference should solve the problem!

    1. People couldn’t park at his store because parking wasn’t enforced. His building had pieces ripped off of it, the back door was ripped off and they tried to break in. He has video of guys urinating on his property. A big job government is suppose to do is protect us. He left because he wasn’t protected. The only businesses that call to rent his space are more bars. If the City wants retail businesses downtown that aren’t bars, they aren’t doing enough to make them welcome.

  2. Downtown has been loaded with bars as far back as I can remember. Mr. Shank moved to the location KNOWING that there were many bars in his immediate area. His expectations were business utopia? Not to mention that Mr. Shank is impressed with what uppity town looks like. Well there are openings sir, move and pay the higher rent!
    Maybe your days will be less stressful. Peace!

  3. Not that anyone believed them at the time, but I think it is so… ironic? that they say the city is looking to acquire more parking. When the coliseum was proposed, the ‘study’ showed that there was plenty of parking (and that would have been based on good attendance). But now they say there isn’t enough (even counting the empty garage)?

    Sent from my iPhone


  4. Perhaps the presence of fully armed swat teams with K9 units could control these kids? Maybe just let ’em drink the near beer so they don’t get so goofy and disrespectful. Maybe a war on drugs would do the trick. Close all the downtown bars and let ’em party at home where there is no oversight at all. When the bathrooms are closed, hold it or pee your pants. (Showers for bikers but no bathrooms for pee-ers.) Raise taxes and allocate more funds to local authorities that can tie in to a massive surveillance system of multiple video cameras on every street corner, and every home owners private systems. Friday and Saturday nights in any bar scene around the country. If you don’t like it, avoid it. Go see a movie or visit a friend. Live there and quite possibly,,,what it is, is what it is.

  5. Admittedly, the block that Mr. Shank lives on is the one block that sees the most bar patrons of all of downtown. Three busy taverns directly across the street from his building and one behind him across an alley (four more within a block). These establishment see thousands of patrons on any given weekend. Their owners, managers and dozens of employees have quite a job on their hands to see that everything runs smoothly and within community norms. Mistakes are sometimes made, but on the whole they keep things orderly and safe for their guests.
    We begrudge the costs of policing this area yet constantly complain of a perceived lack of police presence. Other than changing ordinances, zoning & codes to turn this area into a fantastic Potemkin Village of a bygone small town utopia I suggest we deal with reality and develop and promote Downtown rationally (as I believe the present administration is doing).

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