The board uniformly levied fines of $200 against Stop-N-Go Fuel Mart, Stop-N-Save, Circle K, Amigo and Party Mart. In addition, the businesses will have their licenses suspended for three days, March 17, 18 and 19.
All of the businesses sold beer to underage people during two sting operations conducted by area law enforcement. The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department conducted one check on Dec. 16, 2015. The sheriff’s department worked in conjunction with the East Ridge Police Department on Dec. 30, 2015 on a second operation.
The five businesses all gave an account of how alcohol was sold to a minor even though all had some system in place to prevent the occurrence.
A representative from Stop-N-Go Fuel Mart at 3452 Ringgold Rd. said that he spoke with the employee who sold the beer and asked him to read a drivers license. It was discovered that the employee had a vision problem and couldn’t see the date on the ID. That man was taken to an optician and fitted with corrective lenses.
“I know this is not an excuse but this is what I’m telling you,” said the representative.
Beer Board member Carnell Storie said that he felt bad for the man but implored him to “make sure you keep (the employee’s) glasses clean.”
Board member James Peels informed the Stop-N-Go Fuel Mart representative of the consequences of a second violation within a year. “If you do it again it is a one-year suspension,” Peels said.
A man representing Stop-N-Save at 3918 Ringgold Rd. explained to the board that the his employee “made a mistake” and that it was the first time in 10 years of operation that the business had been cited.
Robert Stahl, the acting chairman for the meeting, asked about what sort of training Stop-N-Save employees may have received in terms of checking IDs. Storie wanted to know if the owners of Stop-N-Save were aware of training offered by the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Commission?
The store representative’s brother-in-law quickly asked if he could speak? The man told the board that he was installing some software in all his stores that requires a date of birth be entered into the register during all beer sales transactions. This could prevent underage beer sales. He also assured the board that the state’s ABC training is held in downtown Chattanooga and he suggested to his brother-in-law to attend.
A representative from Circle K at 4011 Ringgold Rd. explained to the panel that the employee who committed the infraction may have keyed in the date of birth of the underage buyer incorrectly. The woman told the board that Circle K has a “zero tolerance policy” when it comes to underage beer sales and that the employee who sold the beer was terminated.
This prompted Storie to say that he was sorry the employee was fired, and told the Circle K representative that he was “glad you’re not my mom.”
The woman went on to say that Circle K has 15,000 stores in 20 countries and that the convenience store giant has a 33-step,company-based training module in place to prevent underage alcohol sales. She emphasized that training and software was in place but that employees “had to be willing to follow policy.”
Stahl said that he was reassured that training was emphasized, however, the store would be receiving the same fine and three-day suspension as the other offenders.
A representative from Amigo restaurant told the board that the sale of beer to the minor on Dec. 30 was the result of a packed restaurant and an inexperienced waiter. He explained that he has subsequently purchased a device which will electronically scan all forms of identification for a date of birth on someone buying alcohol.
In a sidebar during the discussion of the infraction it was noted that the criminal case against the waiter was dismissed in Hamilton County Sessions Court. The case was heard there, it was explained, because the citation was issued by a Hamilton County sheriff’s deputy.
Amigo was given the same sanction, a fine and three-day suspension. It was noted that beer sales suspension for the popular Mexican restaurant for three days would hurt the establishment financially. Stahl and Storie both assured the Amigo representative that they would patronize the business during the suspension. Storie said he would come and “drink a whole bunch of coca-colas” with his meal.
A representative from the Party Mart at 6006 Ringgold Rd. told the panel that he checked the ID of the underage person buying the beer, not once but twice.
“I don’t know what happened to me,” the man said. “I made a mistake. It was just one of those things.”
He was told to pay closer attention to the dates. Apparently, the same store was cited for selling beer to minors in 2014. It was noted that another infraction would result in a three-year suspension of the store’s beer license.
Melissa Price, the owner of the End Zone, came before the council to explain why she was late in sending in her $100 fee to renew her business license. She told the panel that the post office had changed its delivery schedule to the popular bar and eatery on Ringgold Road to the mornings when there is no one there to get the mail. Price said she went to the post office to inquire and there was a stack of mail there.
Price had paid the application fee and the check had been cashed, she explained. The board overlooked the infraction but gave the owner a stern warning that if it happened again there would be a fine.
The manager of Walgreen’s at Ringgold Road and Germantown Road came before the council to request a beer license. He was told that City ordinances do not permit alcohol sales within 175 feet of a church. Edgewood Baptist Church is right next door.
Stahl explained that by law the Beer Board could not grant the license and that the man would have to appear in front of the East Ridge City Council to request a variance for beer sales.
“We don’t have the jurisdiction to do that,” Stahl said.
The board also took note that the Chairman, Steve Gaston, was stepping down as he and his family were moving out of East Ridge. The board quickly moved to elect Stahl as the chairman.