Mayor Anthony Calderone called a mandatory meeting of all Forest Park liquor license holders last Thursday afternoon in an attempt to counter a recent surge in underage drinking incidents at local establishments.
“Over the last year or so there has been a preponderance of occurrences in the communities where certain liquor establishments have been selling alcohol to people under 21,” said Calderone, who also serves as the village’s liquor commissioner, to the 60 or so license-holders in attendance.
The liquor commissioner has the authority to call a hearing in response to violations, during which fines can be issued or liquor licenses suspended or revoked. No such hearings have taken place so far this year. To date, Calderone said, only fines have resulted from hearings before the liquor commissioner.
“If we see increased violations, we will move through a scale of consequences up to suspension and even revocation of liquor licenses,” he warned. “The extra $10 or $20 you make on one underage customer could end up costing thousands.”
Typically, bartenders and underage drinkers arrested by police are given a local ordinance citation, which results in fines ranging from $75 to $150. Twelve such citations have been issued so far this year, according to records attained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
Most of these citations arose from a “liquor sting” conducted in March by the Police Department along with the Illinois State Police. Underage residents, who were paid through a state grant for their services, were sent into bars, liquor stores and restaurants to see whether they were carded, according to Police Chief James Ryan.
The March operation resulted in three arrests and eight citations. The establishments caught selling liquor to underage drinkers were Forest Park Liquors, Kevil’s, Francesca’s Fiore, Zambonies, R’Place, Kazzbarr, Murphy’s Pub and Skrine Chops.
Ryan said the village is looking to hike fines for underage drinking violations up to the $500-$750 range. If the minors cannot pay this amount, the fine will be passed along to their parents.
“We’ve gotten feedback from the kids that [with the current fines] it’s just a ticket, and it’s the price of doing business,” he said.
Underage drinking can also be costly for the village, as it has learned in recent months. Nineteen-year-old Ed Reformado found himself involved in a bar fight and later a physical altercation with police at Duffy’s Tavern on March 1, and has since hired longtime village adversary Jeanine Stevens as his attorney. She has vowed that her client will file both criminal and civil charges, alleging police brutality.
Duffy’s, located at 7513 Madison Street, was also the site of eight arrests on May 30, seven for underage drinking and/or use of a fake ID and one for serving liquor to a minor. Several of the minors said they were able to enter through a back door without being carded. The bar was ordered to close for the night after the arrests.
According to a police report, one employee told police that “business has gotten really slow since we started carding.”
Representatives from Duffy’s could not be reached for comment by press time.
Michael Block, owner of Forest Park Liquors, 7429 Madison Street, noted that he has seen an increase in underage patrons in recent months, especially since school got out.
“I turn kids away every weekend,” he said. “I’ve carded people who were 35 that I would have sworn were 21 and people who were 21 who I would have sworn were 30. It goes both ways.”
At the meeting, Calderone distributed a copy of the village’s liquor ordinance to each of the license-holders present, noting that each of them had received a copy when they were issued their liquor license.
“We want your businesses to succeed, and we want you to be profitable, but there’s a responsible way,” he told the crowd. “Is there anyone in this room today who feels it’s OK to sell alcohol to people under 21?” he asked.
Not surprisingly, no hands went up. The problem, officials believe, seems to arise mostly from bars and restaurants not taking the necessary precautions to ensure that the IDs presented to them are legitimate.
“As business owners we have the responsibility to prevent people under 21 from buying alcohol,” said Block. “We’re always checking IDs. I’m not saying we haven’t made mistakes in the past, but it hasn’t been us just trying to make a quick buck.”
To prevent such inadvertent mistakes, Ryan suggested asking for further proof of identification when an ID appears suspicious.
“If you’re having a problem and you’re not sure, ask for a second ID card,” suggested Ryan. Calderone asked if anyone in the room was only carrying one form of identification, and only one hand was raised, reinforcing the point that if an ID is real, chances are the person will have some other form of documentation with the same name.
In the coming weeks, the license-holders will be required to return to village hall for a BASSET (Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training) session, conducted by state officials from the Illinois Liquor Control Commission, which will provide further instruction on how to distinguish fake IDs and inform them of other matters concerning underage drinking.