by Gail P. Montany
Eight Caledonia County mini-marts and stores - seven of them in St. Johnsbury - were caught selling alcoholic beverages to minors in a state sting operation last month and will have to refrain from selling beer and wine for five days in coming weeks.
Last week, Shop & amp; Save Food Market in Lyndon had to cover its display of alcoholic beverages for the suspension period; Grand Union in St. Johnsbury has its covered up this week.
According to Sandy Gascon, administrative assistant in the enforcement division of Liquor Control, of 20 stores checked in Caledonia County, eight sold liquor to people under the age of 21.
The six other St. Johnsbury stores caught in the latest sting were the White Market on Portland Street, the Citgo station at the foot of Hospital Drive, Center Tower in St. Johnsbury Center, Moose River Lake and Lodge on Railroad Street, Champlain Farms on Portland Street and the Railroad Street Irving station. All were first-time offenders.
The latest sting, which occurred between May 15 and 18 and was the second this year, sent minors into 220 stores in the state to buy wine or beer. Fifty-two stores - 24 percent - sold alcohol without checking for proper identification, according to officials of the Department of Liquor Control. Those caught were summoned before the state board for possible license suspensions, said Gascon. If they don't bother to contest the charge, firsttime offenders take a five-day suspension.
"The law's the law," said Mickey Murphy, the owner of Shop & amp; Save. "Alcohol stings have been going on for a long time. I have a tougher time with tobacco stings, but my clerk broke the law and there's got to be a way to check it. Lord knows we've got problems with kids."
In the Shop & amp; Save case, the clerk, said Murphy, asked whether the buyer was 21, but did not follow up with a request for identification.
"She was halfway there; she asked for his age," he said. "I'm not happy about it, but if we didn't have a way of checking it, we'd have underage kids drinking."
And that's the bottom line, said Gaston. "It's an effort to curtail the sales of alcohol to minors. It's unacceptable."