Partnership for Alcohol Safety wants to host town-hall meeting with Iowa Beverage Division

BY KRISTEN EAST | MAY 09, 2013 5:00 AM

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Pending further discussion, the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division may host a town-hall meeting in Iowa City this summer to address the problems local restaurants face with alcohol-compliance checks.

The Partnership for Alcohol Safety, a joint committee between University of Iowa and Iowa City officials, discussed ideas for increasing communication about alcohol-compliance checks during its meeting on Wednesday. When it comes to the randomized checks, several business owners in downtown Iowa City agree that restaurants deserve more support.

Kelly Bender, the UI community harm reduction initiatives coordinator, said that it’s important for the community to create a standard about responsible beverage service at bars and restaurants.

“There’s some really legitimate concerns,” she said. “Someone who works at a bar is going to have more experience checking IDs. Restaurants … their employees don’t have the benefit of that kind of practice.”

The state Alcoholic Beverages Division holds town-hall meetings occasionally throughout the state, and Bender said she and officials there have discussed the prospect of holding one in Iowa City.

The town hall would focus on discussion with Iowa City restaurants in particular, but everyone would be welcome to attend, Bender said.

“[The restaurants] have issues that are different from the bars,” she said. “This allows us the opportunity to have this discussion.”

Iowa City police regularly conduct alcohol-compliance checks on city businesses, the purpose of which is to help decrease alcohol sales to minors. Selling alcohol to a minor is a simple misdemeanor, punishable with a $500 fine for the first offense. All violations are forwarded to the Alcoholic Beverages Division for civil penalties against a business’ liquor license.

Iowa City police recently cited several businesses for selling alcohol to minors. Employees at Noodles and Company, Z’Mariks Noodle Cafe, Quinton’s Bar & Deli, and Thai Spice Restaurant were charged with having sold alcohol to a minor on or around March 14.

George Etre, the owner of Takanami and Formosa, said he thinks it’s a problem that restaurants are being checked just as much, if not more, than “problem bars” downtown.

“Because we’re downtown, there are more compliance checks,” he said. “There’s a web already on downtown Iowa City. I have no problem with compliance checks as long as the problem bars are checked as much as they should be.”

One bar owner said all downtown bars and restaurants are often categorized as “problem businesses.”

“What I feel we don’t address, that’s always been the problem, we could probably count on one hand all the problem bars downtown, but we all get put in that category,” said Leah Cohen, owner of Bo-James, 118 E. Washington St.

Cohen suggested that bigger bars don’t fail compliance checks as often because they’re used to seeing minors with IDs.

“The stings in those big bars tend to be non-effective pretty much because they’re used to minors,” she said. “They’re used to doing that all the time.”

Nancy Bird, director of the Iowa City Downtown District, said restaurants could use more support in order to pass compliance checks.

“They need more practice, more support from [the Partnership], more official support,” she said, suggesting the creation of a pilot program prior to any town-hall meeting with the Alcoholic Beverages Division. “Some kind of forum this summer would be great.”

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