Selling liquor in Winnebago one year after referendum passes


WINNEBAGO, Ill. — Happy hour has only been around in the village of Winnebago for about a year.

“Just to have these extra business, and to be able to come and hang out and stay local,” are reasons Winnebago local Jennifer Viel enjoys going out in her hometown.

Viel and her friends like to unwind at Cimino’s Pizza– one of many Winnebago restaurants that could not sell alcohol before a referendum passed in November 2018.
“We used to drive to Rockford and outside Winnebago,” recalled Viel. “We were giving our business basically to other communities.”

Before voters approved community-wide liquor sales, only four establishments annexed north of McNair Road could legally sell alcohol.
One of them was Toni’s of Winnebago.

“My philosophy is restaurant first, bar second,” said owner Michelle Princer. “I don’t want to eat a steak without a nice glass of wine.”
In 1997, Princer opened the first full service bar in the village in over 100 years. Mixing drinks without a single competitor.

“Anytime another restaurant comes in that serves food and beverage services, then you’re just taking a little piece of the pie from the other ones that have been established here for a long time,” said Princer.

The chef says new businesses in the area haven’t impacted sales this year, citing local loyalty to the first-of-it’s-kind watering hole.
“I know the residents of Winnebago, and they like to support the businesses that are here, so we just want to be in that circle.”

While the impact of legal liquor licenses has been mostly positive, some residents complain of less parking on the increasingly popular Benton St. where many new businesses have opened.

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