Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division holds Johnson County Town Hall meeting


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In need of uncovering the true economic effect that the distribution, sale, and consumption of alcohol have on the state of Iowa?

A simple drive or walk to the literal thousands of restaurants, bars, and liquor stores dotted across county and city boundaries should prove to do just the trick.

Tonya Dusold, the communications director for the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division, said there are 1,250 delivery points statewide that deliver alcohol to liquor, convenience, and grocery stores, which then in turn ship to area bars and restaurants.

Nearly all 99 counties are served each week.

And here in Johnson County, led by large numbers of such establishments in Iowa City and Coralville, the same rings true.

Dusold said Johnson, the state’s fourth most populous county, has the fifth highest alcohol sales on a yearly basis.

Dickenson County in northwest Iowa, the home of the Lake Okoboji and Spirit Lake area, outpaces significantly larger Polk, Linn, and Scott Counties.

As no stranger to liquor-flowing establishments, local and state officials recognize Johnson County’s role, and they say greater educational offerings, tied in with regular compliance checks, are necessary.

Alongside dozens of county liquor licensees and law authorities, the alcohol agency brought its discussion to the forefront Wednesday, hosting a town-hall-style meeting in the North Liberty Community Center.

The agency focused on 12 liquor-licensed items, including the legal age at which alcohol can be sold on certain occasions, such as in a restaurant versus a gas station, proper keg-registration guidelines, outdoor service, refilling liquor bottles, and accepting alcohol products from distributors.

Agency Deputy Administrator of Regulatory Affairs Karen Freund said by hosting forums, businesses that hold liquor licenses will be spared from initially being slapped with alcohol compliance and violation codes by local law enforcement.

“Beer is the biggest issue we have,” she said. “Don’t go to Casey’s or Kum & Go if your bar runs out of beer at 11 p.m. — that’s illegal,” she said addressing the predominantly Iowa City area bar and restaurant owners.

Contrary to popular belief, she said in fiscal 2012, the top three alcohol-related violations were bootlegging, record keeping, and purchasing from a non-wholesaler.

During standard business compliance checks, she said the agency often finds that beverage companies such as Budweiser and Coors give away a plethora of complimentary products, including posters, outdoor umbrellas, drink coasters, and condiment caddies.

Those posters, if visible from the exterior of the business, are illegal by state code.

She suggested that businesses take much of the free merchandise as possible, because the alcohol agency will go after the distributors of the products, not the establishment, with a several-hundred-dollar fine or greater.

Among the additional list of illegal doings are changing the look of spirits, wine, or beer packaging, holding an unregistered beer keg, selling, serving, consuming or giving away any alcohol after 2 a.m., destroying liquor in the presence of law enforcement, and refilling or “marrying” liquor bottles.

“If you fill Grey Goose with McCormick [vodka], that’s a really big No-No,” she said. “You cannot buy a bigger bottler and try and squeeze alcohol into a smaller [bottle]. I’m not saying all these make sense, but it’s the law.”

Kelly Bender, the University of Iowa community harm reduction initiatives coordinator, said the goal is to bring all Johnson County liquor licensees together for roundtable discussions at least once a year.

Admitting many newly implemented guidelines are confusing, she said she is encouraging business owners to seek the help of city officials and police forces rather than turning their backs on them.

“It’s important to keep the conversation going,” she said. “It’s better to be safe and get the right answer than guess wrong and be held accountable.”

Johnita Quinlan, the food and beverage manager at the Pleasant Valley Golf Course, 4390 Sand Road S.E., said although the first meeting didn’t bring shock regarding her business’ bottom line, she will now seek out further educational outlets for her employees.

“It’s nice to know they’re going to come out and educate you,” she said. “But there are things I have to clearly follow up on.”

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