The Chattanooga Beer Board on Thursday morning handed down penalties to 10 establishments that failed in a recent sting on selling beer to minors.
Three, each with two previous violations, received the stiff penalties of a 30-day suspension of their beer permit.
In an attempt to reduce sales of alcohol to minors, the Chattanooga Police Department in conjunction with representatives from the ABC Board and the Hamilton County Coalition made compliance checks two different nights in March.
Checks were made at 15 businesses resulting in five violations on March 13. On the evening of March 25, there were compliance checks done at 18 businesses including liquor stores. That ended with 10 violations.
The sales clerk at Allied Quick Stop at 1300 N. Holtzclaw Ave. did ask to see an ID to confirm the age of the undercover buyer and commented that he looked young when she misread the date. Beer sales will not be allowed at that convenience store from April 4 through May 5.
Triple T’s Market, 2801 Dodson Ave., also received the 30-day penalty. When the underage buyer came to the counter, the clerk did ask to see an ID and also asked if he was over 21. The buyer testified that he never answered and that the clerk merely glanced at the driver’s license and made the sale anyway. The owner of the store told board members that he has now bought a scanner to identify age, but the board felt the action was done after-the-fact and, in combination with the two prior violations, suspended the right to sell beer for 30 days starting April 10.
C&S Market at 1520 Dodson Ave. was given the same punishment when the clerk neglected to ask for an ID. She said she had worked at the store for seven years since her mother bought it. The night of the compliance check she said she had been distracted and just forgot to ask.
Another distracted clerk, this one at Favorite Market, 200 Browns Ferry Road, did not ask an underage buyer to produce an ID but did ask his date of birth. When told 1995 he sold the beer anyway and then told a story about breaking up with his girlfriend. No representative from the business was sent to the hearing Thursday, which the board felt was disrespectful. In place of the three-day suspension given for most first offenses, this store received seven days as a combination penalty of the violation and the fact that no one showed up.
Abdon Vaquez, owner of Las Margaritas, 3100 Cummings Hwy., has three other locations in Chattanooga. On March 13 at 8 p.m., two underage buyers were served alcohol in the restaurant. An employee that was bussing the tables - not a regular server - took the order and asked to see IDs but made the sale despite the customers being 18. Mr. Vaquez has been in business 24 years without a violation of the beer code. This location was given a three-day suspension beginning April 10.
The next-door neighbor to the owner of Citgo Market, 5901 Lee Hwy., was temporarily filling in as sales clerk when he said he made an honest mistake. He also said distraction due to family matters caused him to fail to ask for an ID when the underage customer bought a beer. Beginning next Thursday the permit for this business will be suspended for three days.
The clerk at Happy Mart, 5701 Brainerd Road. made no attempt to check for age when a beer was sold to the underage consumer on March 25. This business has only been open two months and board member Andre Harriman told owner Duan Ying He that she told the board she understood the requirements of the beer code when it was issued. Because of the appearance of difficulty in understanding the proceedings of the meeting, Chairman Phillip Sallee commented that he was not convinced that she could read the license and figure out the dates. Member Christopher Keene said that maybe it was a cultural issue, but that if she was too shy or intimidated by a customer to ask for an ID she should not be in that business. The board suggested she purchase a scanner to do the math and suspended the sale of beer for three days beginning April 10.
The sales clerk behind the register at Frank’s Grocery, 603 Tunnel Blvd., confused the date for the legal sale of cigarettes with that of the date indicating the legal sale of beer. The buyer testified that the clerk asked for an ID but merely glanced at it and made the sale. The chairman of the Council of the Eastdale/North Brainerd Community where the business is located came to the meeting to express the neighborhood's concerns about this store which he said has had problems with shootings loitering, littering and violations of the open container law. He said that if a compliance check was made for five days that violations of the beer code would be found each day. The owner, Surat Wongmanee, said he used a microphone to ask people to leave his parking area and called the police when they do not. This store sells around 200-300 cases of beer each week. Board member Forestine Haynes told the owner that beer sales in that community produces a cause and effect, and that Frank’s is causing a lot of problems in the area, adding that he has the right to refuse to sell to anyone. A three-day suspension of beer sales was given to this business.
The mistake made at Kanku’s, 3440 Wilcox Blvd., on March 25 was also a case of confusion, said the clerk. He, too, confused the date that is legal to sell tobacco with the year that is legal to sell beer. He asked to see an ID but made the sale despite the date on the license being 1995. The owner, who did not come to the meeting, was reprimanded by a neighborhood representative who said he should be present to provide a plan for the business to be a better neighbor and clean up the parking lot where he claimed that loiterers approach everyone asking for money. For the first offense this store lost the use of its beer license for three days starting next Thursday.
A clerk at The Pantry, 234 Browns Ferry Road, said she did not have her glasses when she read a license and thought it was dated 1985 instead of 1995. Because this business is in the responsible vendor program , a civil penalty of $1,000 was allowed versus the suspension of the beer permit. After this incident she was terminated and the other employees were re-trained, said the attorney representing Kangaroo Express that operates the business.
Ms. Haynes commented that with so many mistakes caused by distractions and inattention by sales clerks, that when selling beer, the clerk should not only ask to see an ID but they need to really read it.