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Local mini-marts flunk spot check

Nearly one-half of the South Kitsap mini-marts and grocery stores checked earlier this month by the State Liquor Control Board sold alcohol to minors.

The board sent teenagers between the ages of 17 and 19 into seven area food stores which had liquor licenses, and watched to see if the clerk checked the kids’ identifications and/or let them buy alcohol.

Three stores, all on Mile Hill Drive — Country Junction, Barry’s Gas & Go and Young’s Quick Stop — sold the kids alcohol.

All the underage operatives were carrying their own identifications and were instructed to give their real ages if asked.

“Believe it or not, we have quite a few that check the ID but make the sale anyway,” said control board spokeswoman Tricia Currier. “It’s automatic — they don’t do the math properly.”

All three stores were given written warnings, and the clerks who sold the booze were criminally cited by police. Currier said the stores had been cited for selling to minors before, but all the citations were more than two years old — the statute of limitations at the board.

If any establishment is cited with at least four violations in two years, it can lose its liquor license.

“Our agent has the discretion to write a citation on the first time,” Currier said. “But we use this as an educational tool.”

She said mini mart-type stores are some of the most frequent offenders because of their high staff turnover. Currier said many times store clerks are put behind the counter with little or no training. Some don’t even know how to check IDs or what to look for to identify underage customers.

Currier said the control board tries to check an area at least once a month, although every liquor licensee doesn’t get visited that often.

Currier pointed out because store owners rely on liquor sales as a substantial part of their income, few make a habit of selling to minors.

The owner of Barry’s Gas and Go, who refused to give her name, was upset by the attention the warning was getting.

“Nobody’s perfect,” she said. “My salesman made an honest mistake.”

The manager of Country Junction, who also would not give her name, didn’t want to comment on the matter. The manager of Young’s Quick Stop, who would only give his first name — John — said he thinks the clerk who sold the liquor was confused and made a mistake.

The teenagers they use come mostly from the Explorers — a group for kids interested in law enforcement — and high school DARE programs. However, they occasionally get kids living next door to control board agents and others who volunteer on their own.

“Generally, police officers recommend kids who want to get involved,” Currier said. “They never seem to have a lack of volunteers.”

She added that the board tries to use kids who look their age. Currier pointed out that many in their late teens can look old enough to be in their mid-twenties, which could confuse check results.

Some kids are used more than once, and most get paid an hourly wage — approximately $10 per hour — for their assistance.

And no, Currier said, if the operative successfully buys alcohol during a check, they don’t get to keep it.

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