Chattanooga Beer Board Debates Appropriate Punishment For Selling To Minors

Thursday, March 06, 2014 - by Gail Perry

A difference of opinion about what is appropriate punishment for selling beer to minors was debated at the meeting of the Chattanooga Beer Board Thursday morning. This discussion ensued after three businesses were cited for selling beer to an 18-year-old during compliance checks done on Feb. 19.

In response to complaints that the Chattanooga police department had received about beer sales to minors in the area, representatives from the CPD, The Tennessee Alcohol Beverage Commission and Hamilton County Coalition jointly made compliance checks at 15 businesses in Hixson. An 18-year-old was sent into the stores to try and buy beer. Of those, three sold a 24 ounce beer to the underage buyer.

Andre Harriman who represents the area where these violations occurred said that several people in his neighborhood association were upset about underage sales in the area. He led Chairman of the Board Phillip Sallee and board member Karl Epperson who did not believe a three day punishment was sufficient.  Mr. Harriman said businesses perceive that as just a “slap on the wrist,” and was in favor of a six day suspension of a beer license to take place on two consecutive weekends. Mr. Sallee said he believed the board should be pro-active and not look at punishments that had been given in the past.  

Board member James Hobbs said the board should be consistent in issuing their penalties and that in the past, first violations had received a three day suspension of a beer permit. Member Christopher Keene said three days is more than a slap on the wrist, and taking beer sales away from a store for three days out of a week is of significant magnitude to a business that relies on beer and tobacco sales.   

On Feb. 19 at 8:20 p.m. a clerk at Tobacco & Beverage Outlet, 3600 Hixson Pike, sold a beer to the minor without asking for an ID. The owner, Sam Matthew apologized and told the board that it happened when he was away and he regretted it. He also said he and the clerk were “psychologically upset” because earlier that day he had been robbed at gunpoint. Mr. Matthew’s business has two locations and he has had a beer license two years with this being his first offense. He told the board that every day he reminds his employees not to sell beer or tobacco products to minors.  

Forestine Haynes commented that she’d been robbed and knew how upsetting it was. She added that the problems in the neighborhood had not been with this store and that the owner had acknowledged the mistake. The majority of the board agreed with her that the three day suspension beginning next Thursday was adequate punishment.  

Tobacco Outlet located at 5510 Highway 153 was tested at 7:45 p.m. The same underage buyer was sold a 24 oz. can of beer without being asked for an I.D. The owner was behind the counter and talking on the phone and there were no other customers in the store at the time.  Mr. Pravin Patel admitted he made the sale. This being another first violation, the business was given a three day suspension of its beer license beginning a week from today. 

The third store that sold beer to the 18-year-old on Feb. 19 was a convenience store, Sunrise Market, 6405 Hixson Pike. A brother of owner Harshal Patel was at the cash register at the time and he did check the ID and acknowledged the date was 1995. He admitted making a mistake and that he had made the sale. He told Chattanooga Police Officer John Collins that he got the age confused with the legal age for tobacco sales. It was a first offense for this store that has been in business since 2007. It too, received a three day suspension of the beer license to start beginning next Thursday. 

A special events permit was given to Matt Lewis and The Honest Pint, 35 Patten Parkway for “St. Patty’s Party on the Parkway.” The outdoor event will take place March 15 from 4-11 p.m. on the block between Georgia Avenue and Lindsay Street. Mr. Lewis told the board that servers at his business always check IDs even after they are checked at the door. Hot pink wristbands are given to those under 21 and bright green to those that are legal drinking age. Everyone has IDs he said, even the band. The block will be closed with fencing and will have security. Around 1,000 people are expected. 

The owners of Sigler’s Craft Beer & Cigars got a carry-out permit to sell beer in January. They came to the board meeting Thursday to request a consumer license so they will also be able to sell samples of their draft beers which are sold in growlers. These will consist of four, three ounce tasting flights and will be limited to one per customer. There will be no sit-down tables. Assistant City Attorney Keith Reisman told them they would need to reapply for the new permit.  

Paul Smith, executive director of Finley Stadium, came to the meeting he said to explore new options for revenue for the stadium. He is considering bringing the catering business in-house and that would include selling beer. The First Tennessee Pavilion where beer is currently sold is also owned by the stadium. Mr. Reisman will help determine if a single beer permit could be applied to both locations. 

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