Police bust area alcohol vendors

Andy Steinke

Twenty-nine businesses on or near campus have been checked for selling liquor to minors since 2003 – and many are failing the test.

Minneapolis police have checked those businesses 58 times, according to police records. Forty of those checks, or about 70 percent, have ended with the businesses selling alcohol to underage shoppers.

In comparison, Sgt. John Billington, an inspector with the Minneapolis Police Department’s License Investigations Division, said only 30 percent of businesses in the city that were checked last year sold alcohol to an underage shopper sent by police.

During a compliance check, an underage shopper is sent into a business and told by police to attempt to buy alcohol.

They can’t lie about their age if they are asked how old they are, and they must use their own ID.

If a business asks for their ID and refuses to sell the alcohol to them, then the business passes inspection. But if it checks the ID and sells alcohol to them anyway, or doesn’t ask for the ID at all, then they fail the check.

View the complete list of businesses checked by Minnepolis police since 2003.

Billington said police conduct 500 to 600 youth alcohol compliance checks of businesses in the city every year.

“We reserve the right to check anyone at anytime,” Billington said. “But we try to be fair and reasonable about it.”

There are more than 700 businesses in the city selling alcohol, he said. So how do police decide which ones to check?

“We have a list,” Billington said. “I look for the ones that haven’t been checked in a while and I say, ‘We need to hit these.’ “

“We hope everybody passes,” he said. “We just realize it’s not like that.”

Upon first failure, the server is charged with serving alcohol to a minor and the business receives a ticket and a $500 fine.

If they fail a second time, the fine is increased to $1,000 and $2,000 for a third offense.

If a business fails three times in two years, their license is likely to be suspended or revoked, Billington said.

Near the University, several businesses have had problems passing inspections in recent years.

Three failed checks in 2006 led city officials to revoke the 4th Street Market’s liquor license in January 2007.

Blarney Pub and Grill in Dinkytown was thrust into the limelight in 2005 after underage University hockey players were caught drinking in the bar. The bar also failed liquor checks conducted by police in 2004 and 2005.

The bar agreed to close for 30 days and pay a $20,000 fine, Ricardo Cervantes, deputy director of Licenses and Consumer Services, said.

When a business has its license fully revoked it can’t reapply for a liquor license for five years, he said.

If a business fails a check, Billington said the department will try to go back to the business within a couple of months to see if it has things “squared away.”

After Kikugawa at Riverplace on Main Street Southeast in Marcy-Holmes failed a check on March 31, Minneapolis police returned Thursday to check the business again. This time it passed the check.

Manager Jeff Chang said he thinks the checks are good, but said the business didn’t do anything different after failing its check in March. He said Kikugawa has been checked “pretty often” in the past.

According to police records, the business was checked twice in 2003 and once in 2005, and all three checks were failed.

All employees are trained to check IDs, but Chang said the failed check in March was accidental. One of Minneapolis police’s underage shoppers had a birthday that was close to the legal date, and the server didn’t check it closely enough, he said.

U Liquors on Washington Avenue was also checked Thursday and passed inspection. It was only the second check of the business since the beginning of 2003.

General Manager George Medich said employees check every shopper that comes in, but didn’t want to comment on why the business failed a check in March.

However, Medich said he has no hard feelings toward Minneapolis police when they come around to do alcohol compliance checks.

“I think they are just doing their job,” he said.