Number of North St. Paul businesses caught selling alcohol to a minor jumps

With third violation, liquor store’s license to be temporarily suspended

An uptick over recent years, five North St. Paul businesses were caught selling alcohol to a minor during the police department’s regular compliance checks in 2013, and one store, 9 Dragons Liquor, will soon experience a five-day suspension of its license.

The North St. Paul Police Department conducted routine compliance checks at the city’s 13 establishments that sell liquor, the majority of which are bars and restaurants, using someone between the ages of 18 and 20 who is often a volunteer or a member of the police reserves, according to Chief Tom Lauth.

When an underage person attempted to buy alcohol, five businesses failed to check IDs or looked at identification and still sold the person liquor during the reviews in July and November, according to Lauth.

“Having five is an abnormality,” he said. “It does send up a red flag.”

It’s a significant jump from past years. According to Lauth, all businesses with liquor licenses passed the compliance checks in 2011 and 2012.  Only one failed in 2010, and two in both 2009 and 2008. All the businesses cleared the checks in 2007, a decrease from three violations in 2006.

The police caught five selling alcohol to a minor in 2005.

Just an anomaly?

Lauth said that business owners often work together to make sure employees are well-trained in liquor laws, and many helped the city develop the current penalty matrix that determines how much an establishment is fined or otherwise punished for a violation.

“For the most part, the practices of our businesses are very good,” Lauth said.  “Unfortunately for some of the owners, it’s not always their fault. It falls upon them, but I believe they do there best to train their employees.”

The department usually conducts two checks per year for tobacco and alcohol, Lauth said.

“[Businesses] have done a good job with it in the past,” Lauth said. “Hopefully this is just an anomaly.”

Business for sale

Because 9 Dragons Liquor, located at 2231 11th Ave. E. near Target, was caught breaking the rules of its license three times within three years, the store may not be able to sell the bulk of its products from Jan. 28 to Feb. 1, according to the city attorney.

The business received notification of the penalty weeks ago, but had not signed the agreement to take on its suspension as of Jan. 14, so the time period has not been finalized.

According to city documents, 9 Dragons previously sold alcohol during prohibited hours twice in August of 2012.

The owner did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The business is reportedly for sale, according to a manager, and a for-sale sign hung in the store’s window.

The city code says a third violation also calls for a $2,000 fine. A fourth violation within 36 months could lead to a license being revoked, according to city code.

The four businesses penalized with a $500 fine for a first offense, as directed by city code, are:

• Cal’s Pizza Factory, 2137 Division St. N. (Highway 120)

• Hmong House, 2112 11th Ave. E.

• North St. Paul American Legion, 2678 7th Ave. E.

• Polar Lounge, 2549 Seventh Ave. E.

If a business doesn’t pay its fine, its liquor license could be suspended or revoked.

There are also usually gross-misdemeanor criminal charges filed against the clerk who sells liquor to a minor, according to Lauth.

There is some flexibility in the civil penalties.

The North St. Paul City Council can consider “extenuating or aggravating” circumstances. Examples in the code include if a business is collaborating with law enforcement to try to prevent selling alcohol to minors or if it has a history of repeated violations.

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7814 and kroby@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.
 

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