Ten businesses were penalized Thursday at the city's beer board meeting for serving alcohol to a minor — the highest number of businesses fined in one meeting in the past year.
All of the businesses were found in violation during a compliance check conducted by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and the Hamilton County Coalition, a local nonprofit. Of the 43 businesses checked during a two-day span in July, 11 served to a minor but only 10 were fined at the meeting Thursday.
Most of the businesses served the minor even after checking for his ID. While a few owners and managers of the establishments said all their employees received professional training on responsible serving, many said they had not.
Board member Andre Harriman said underage drinking has become an "epidemic."
"I always say this is the first time they were caught," said Harriman about the businesses. "It has probably been going on regularly."
As of July 1, minors obtaining their licenses are now given a vertical ID. Before that, both people older and under 21 had a horizontal license. On every underage license, there is a red bar to the right of photo that states they are under 21.
Beer board members often push new applicants planning to serve beer at their establishments to get professional training for themselves and their employees. A few of the businesses cited and fined Thursday were operating with an expired business license or they had only had their beer permit for less than a year.
Seven of the businesses were given a 3-day suspension beginning Thursday, Aug. 30, or a $500 fine in lieu of the suspension. The two MAPCO Marts that were fined were given a $500 suspension each because all employees did complete the state's "Responsible Vendor" program. Assistant city attorney Keith Reisman said that because they were a part of the responsible vendor program, city beer board members could only impose a fine and not a suspension of alcohol sales.
USA Fuel's Gas Station at 1700 E. 23rd St. was given a five-day suspension and no fine in lieu of a suspension. Owner Jim Winters said he was frustrated with the beer board and would possibly appeal the decision to the county's Chancery Court.
Winters, who said he spent 40 years working in law enforcement and emergency services, said he feels like the "sting" operation is entrapment.
"I haven't done anything except own a business," Winters said. "It's a bad law, and I think it needs to be changed. Find a different way to get people (breaking) the law."
The same clerk who sold to a minor in July also sold to a minor in April, and Winters was given a three-day suspension or $250 fine in lieu of the suspension in April. Winters said he has not fired the employee, but he suspended her for a few days.
Calandra Smith, program coordinator at the Hamilton County Coalition, told the business owners "it is your job as an owner and permit holder to make sure you are trained and your employees are properly trained."
The restaurants fined Thursday include: Korner Market at 2328 Rossville Blvd.; AJ Food Mart at 2720 Rossville Blvd.; Randy and Dee's Market at 2201 E. 37th St.; the 4th Corner Store at 2800 E. 4th Ave.; Paradise Petroleum at 4858 Highway 58; Tiger Market at 5010 Hunter Road; MAPCO Express at 2130 Amnicola Highway; USA Fuel's Gas Station at 1700 E. 23rd St.; Ms. K's Express Mart at 1207 Dodds Ave.; and MAPCO Mart at 9101 Lee Highway.
Contact staff writer Allison Shirk at email@example.com, @Allison_Shirk or 423-757-6651.