Monday June 4, 2012

Several establishments selling alcohol in three out of four Berkshire towns have failed compliance checks during recent visits by undercover agents from the Alcoholic Beverage and Control Commission.

The violations involved selling or serving alcohol to an underage ABCC agent during a "sting."

In Lee, 16 premises were surveyed with no violations.

The Cheshire Liquor Center was cited for selling alcohol to a minor, its third violation in five years. The store’s May 2008 incident led to a 55-day license suspension, according to ABCC records, because of multiple previous violations in November 2007.

The Route 8 business was the only one of four checked in Cheshire to receive a violation notice.

According to owner Sunil kumar Patel, he was at dinner when the agents came in. "My guest from Chicago was there, serving for 15 or 20 minutes," Patel told The Eagle.

In Dalton, two businesses out of 10 checked received notices -- The Shamrock Restaurant and Pub, and the Dalton General Store.

Shamrock owner Gerald "Jerry" Roberts said it was his first violation in nearly 10 years of ownership.

"We have been through multiple sting operations, and this is the first time we’ve been caught," Roberts said. "We weren’t serving underage patrons, an agent came in and ordered a beer," he added. "The bartender gave it to him without carding him. The kid looked young enough, he should have been carded."

"We got caught fair and square, they were nice and polite," Roberts said of the ABCC agents. "It’s a major aggravation. We’re mostly a small family restaurant, most customers are over 30."

"We’ve put more signs up, talked to all the bartenders and we’ve gone over all this, as we have before," Roberts emphasized.

Nearby, the Dalton General Store was cited for selling to the agent posing as an underage customer and also for employing a 17-year-old at the register.

Michael G. Smith, owner of the store for nearly 14 years, said "we were in the wrong, my son knew the rules." He explained that his son was filling in briefly on a busy night while his state-certified clerk was working in the back.

Smith acknowledged that he received a previous violation about four years ago, but he was not penalized because it was the first offense in nine years of ownership.

"I’ve met with the staff, went over the rules, there are no ifs, ands or buts," said Smith. "I want to get everyone back into the habit of checking all IDs. I’m a stickler for that."

Smith’s son is performing his father’s own version of community service -- "coaching little kids, teaching them baseball. Because he broke my rules and broke the law, he’s gotta pay my penalty."

In Lenox, 16 businesses were checked and one -- Spirited, formerly Nejaime’s Wine and Liquors at 444 Pittsfield Road -- was cited for the first violation since it opened in 1988.

The store has been under the sole proprietorship of James Nejaime since Jan. 1 and its new signs went up on Friday following a five-month transition from family ownership.

"I was distraught to learn one of our employees had a lapse of judgment, and that employee has been terminated," Nejaime said. "We’re instituting a stringent, more repetitive training program with the Massachusetts Pack age Association to make sure all employees are retrained. It’s vital to check all IDs."

He pointed out that the Nejaime family businesses have had an unblemished record since patriarch Nabih Nejaime opened the first wine and liquor store in Stockbridge 42 years ago.

Actions taken against violators depend on the license-holder’s history, said Chandra J. Allard of the ABCC. The commission will notify each owner by letter of a hearing date. "Each establishment will make its case and the commission will render a written decision," Allard said. "Typically, they will modify, suspend or revoke the license."

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@berkshireeagle.com
or (413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.