Some big name retailers caught selling liquor to minors

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by CHRIS INGALLS / KING 5 News

KREM.com

Posted on April 24, 2013 at 1:32 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 13 at 8:03 AM

Some of the biggest retail food and drug stores in the Puget Sound region top a list of offenders when it comes to the sale of hard liquor to minors.

The KING 5 Investigators obtained data compiled by the Washington State Liquor Control Board (LCB) since a new law went into effect last June that privatized liquor sales in the state.

The records show that undercover “stings” by LCB resulted in nine citations issued to Safeway stores for the sale of liquor to a minor.  Most of those are stores in Western Washington.

Following Safeway are Fred Meyer stores, with 7 citations; Walgreens, 6 citations; Rite Aid, 5 citations; QFC, Albertsons and Walmart,  4 citations each;  Costco, Bartell and Trader Joe’s, 2 citations each.

The companies topping the list -- Safeway and Fred Meyer -- said they take the violations seriously and they discipline or fire employees who violate their strict policies for the sale of booze.

Safeway also pointed out that with 160 stores across the state it is now Washington’s largest liquor retailer, meaning its sheer size can explain why it had more infractions than other retailers.

In all, 82 citations have been issued to “spirits retailers” across Washington since the new law took effect last June.

Undercover stings

Voter approved Initiative 1183 spelled the end of state-run liquor stores, handing the reins over to private companies.  Hard liquor is now sold in hundreds of larger stores across the Washington.

The LCB says it hopes to conduct compliance checks at each one of those retailers before the one-year anniversary of the new law.

“I think people were concerned because it’s a new thing and we don’t have the control system like we used to,” said LCB Sgt. Lorn Richey during a sting operation earlier this month.

Richey and another officer watched as a trained high school student entered several stores that sell hard liquor.  When she attempted to buy a bottle, clerks in each store turned her down.

“It went great. Everybody was complying with the law. That’s what we want to see,” said Richey.

Stores that sell to the undercover teen could pay a steep price.  Under the new law, the fine for a first time offense is $1,000.

But the KING 5 Investigators found many retailers found to have sold liquor to minors aren’t paying that amount, thanks to the LCB's Responsible Vendor Program. Retailers that participate in the program provide extra training to employees and adhere to the strictes alcohol sales policies.

“Since everybody’s got additional training the likelihood that they’re going to fail a compliance check is a lot lower if they follow those best practices,” said Sgt. Richey, explaining the program's goal of helping retailers follow the law..

However, records reviewed by KING 5 show that 25 percent of the spirits retailers cited since June  2012 are enrolled in the responsible vendor program.

The law allows them to pay a reduced fine for their first offense of just $500.

The fact that so many enrollees in the responsible vendor program ended up being ticketed appeared to surprise officials at LCB.  However, they cautioned that they will need more data before reaching any conclusions about which parts of the new law might not be working.

LCB officials say that compliance checks at spirits retailers show that 93 percent of them are following the law and denying sales to minors. That’s about the same compliance rate that liquor stores had when they were run by the state.

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