Menlo Park BevMo! Faces License Suspension After Selling to Minors

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Last January, the Menlo Park Police Department (MPPD) cited three BevMo! clerks for selling alcohol to minors using minor decoys, where the police recruit minors to try and buy alcohol from businesses to see if they will get ID’d. After a similar offense occurred again in September, BevMo!’s liquor license was suspended till November 11. The location is now on probation, meaning that if another violation occurs within the next three years, they could lose their license permanently. The Menlo Park location is currently listed as temporarily closed on their website. 

BevMo! released a statement on Sunday which stated, “[BevMo!] has always taken the responsible sale of alcohol extremely seriously, and we will continually enhance the robust systems we have in place to prevent the sale of alcohol to underage customers,” It also said that BevMo! has, “Enhanced [their] operational compliance procedures, as well as employee training.”   

MPPD Chief David Norris said, “BevMo! was continuing to not heed some of our advice, and it got to a point where the action needed to be taken.” Norris emphasized that suspensions of liquor licenses are rare with most businesses in violation only receiving a warning. For businesses that are cited, the MPPD gives them resources to train their staff and referrals to educational materials that they can use. Norris wants to make sure that the MPPD isn’t just, “Wagging their finger at businesses but instead offering resources to help them.”

In 1994, the California Supreme Court ruled that it was legal for law enforcement to use underage decoys to ensure that licensees are complying with the law. Decoy checks have been running since the 1980s, when the rate of businesses selling to minors was between 40-50%. When decoy checks are conducted on a routine or semi-routine basis, rates drop as low as 10%.

This year, the MPPD received three one-year grants from the California Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). The program is funded from a partnership between the MPPD and the ABC through their Alcohol Policing Partnership Program. 

For a first time violation, a business caught selling alcohol to a minor faces a minimum fine of $250 and/or 24-32 hours of community service. For consecutive violations, punishments can range from the suspension of licenses to being revoked completely.

Decoy checks occur frequently across businesses in Menlo Park, often randomly and with no notice. According to an employee at Willows Market, “The police and other agencies check all retailers and restaurants regularly; we receive a letter after the fact to tell us that we were checked.” Norris verified this, saying, “With the spot checks, we come back in and we say ‘Hey, thank you for doing a great job.’”

BevMo!’s history of failing the spot checks is concerning and doesn’t bode well for the future of the store, particularly considering they may permanently lose their license the next time they receive a violation.   

Ellen is a senior at M-A and in her first year of journalism. She hopes to write about stories that highlight social issues within M-A’s community. In her free time, she enjoys baking, reading, swimming, and spending time with friends.

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