City to suspend liquor licenses

Businesses punished for selling to minors

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Two local liquor sellers accepted short suspensions of their liquor licenses Thursday as a penalty for selling alcohol to a minor during an undercover sweep Dec. 16.

During a hearing at Cen--tennial Hall with the city of Steamboat Springs' Liquor License Authority -- a function of the City Council -- owners of the Dos Amigos restaurant and Steamboat Discount Liquors accepted what amounted to plea bargains for the violations.

Operating as the license authority, City Council members approved penalties, suggested by a team consisting of City Clerk Julie Jordan, staff attorney Dan Foote and police Capt. Joel Rae. The penalties stipulate that Steamboat Discount Liquors will not sell liquor for three consecutive business days -- likely this month. Dos Amigos will not sell liquor for two consecutive business days -- June 1 and 2.

Jordan said suspending the licenses during holidays such as July 4 was not considered.

"We want these to be preventive measures, not punitive measures," she said.

Police officers conducted sweeps of local liquor sellers in September and December. The officers sent people younger than 21 into a variety of restaurants, bars and liquor stores to attempt to purchase alcohol.

The sale of a six-pack of New Belgium beer to an underage person at Steamboat Discount Liquors was the third such violation by the store since December 2003.

"We're not contesting anything," store owner Tom Ihrig said Thursday, explaining that the staff member who sold the beer had worked at the store for five weeks, had missed a city-sponsored alcohol-training course and no longer is employed by the store.

Although the store's license suspension is for 10 days, seven of those days are "held in abeyance," meaning the store won't have to serve them if they do not fail another compliance check. If the store fails another check, the days will be applied as punishment.

Ihrig said all his current employees have taken the city-sponsored alcohol training course.

The penalty for Dos Amigos is similar -- a five-day suspension with three days held in abeyance.

The Dec. 16 sale of a Corona beer to a minor was the first such violation by the restaurant in the 25 years it has been owned by Gary Baxter, who also did not contest the suspension.

"None of us are winners today -- we are all losers," Baxter told the council, citing lost revenue for his restaurant, lost sales taxes for the city and lost wages and tips for his employees.

Baxter said he has met with all of his alcohol-serving staff, tightened serving policies and posted additional "Check ID" signs in Dos Amigos. The restaurant will be allowed to serve food and beverages to customers on June 1 and 2, but not alcohol.

Jordan said both owners can apply to pay fees in lieu of the suspensions. The fees amount to 20 percent of the estimated liquor revenue for the business on the night of the violation, she said.

Rae called the suspensions "reasonable" and "fair."

"Hats off to Steamboat Discount Liquor and Dos Amigos for the measures they've taken," he said. "Hopefully we'll have less of these (violations) in the future."

Council member Kevin Kaminski, owner of B & K Distributors, a beer distribution company, did not participate in Thursday's hearing.

"Every Liquor License Authority item, I have to step down," Kaminski said.

Upcoming meetings for the city's Liquor License Authority include April 6 hearings for Cantina and the Fireside Bar at the Village Inn; and May 4 hearings for Market on the Mountain and Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant.

Thursday's show-cause hearings were part of a new process established so the council can better regulate and punish businesses that sell alcohol to underage buyers. An ordinance that lays out the process and punishments was passed after a September alcohol compliance check, during which nine of 11 businesses sold alcohol to an underage person cooperating with police.

-- To reach Mike Lawrence call 871-4203

or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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