Valley Businesses Caught Not Checking IDs in Alcohol Sales

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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) -- Some Valley businesses are selling alcohol to young people without checking for identification.

Businesses in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County aren't always checking customers' ID before selling alcohol to people who look like minors.

About 32 percent of the businesses in Harrisonburg surveyed were willing to sell alcohol without checking IDs. About 28 percent of the businesses in Rockingham County that were surveyed were willing to do the same. On the other hand, about seven out of 10 of the retailers surveyed who were willing to play by the book and actually ask for that ID.

Clearly, not everyone is playing by the rules. The survey checked on businesses selling alcohol. Philip Harris helped track the numbers. He says he and the group who conducted the survey, Strong Families Great Youth Coalition, were a little surprised with the results.

"I think we were mostly surprised that the numbers in the city and the county were about equal," explained Harris.

The point of the research is to stop substance abuse. That's one mission Seth Barch with Downtown Wine & Gourmet says is important to uphold.

"It's not just the law. It's a community responsibility," Barch shared.

He knows how serious of a problem not checking IDs can be. That's why he checks on people way past their twenties.

"There's a substantial penalty should we actually sell alcohol to someone who is under age both to the store and to the person who actually sells it," Barch added.

In the survey, buyers who were older than 21 but looked younger were recruited for the research.

"In the end, the survey may be the key to helping a retailer in our community keep their license and stay in business," Harris concluded.

Businesses involved in this study were selling alcohol that could be taken off the premises. Though they're being kept confidential, those caught are getting help to prevent the illegal sales from happening again.

Over the last two months, one-third of local retailers surveyed were willing to sell off-premises alcohol without verifying the buyer’s age with proper ID, according to results of an alcohol compliance survey conducted by the Strong Families Great Youth Coalition (SFGYC).

The survey, which included 47retailers in Harrisonburg and 43 in Rockingham County, concluded that there were more willing retailers in the city (31.9%) than in the county (27.9%).

The SFGYC focuses on reducing adolescent substance abuse and the related public health and safety issues. The group got the idea for conducting the compliance survey from a guide prepared by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, according to Erica Rollins, Health Education and Awareness Coordinator for Sentara RMH Community Health and a SFGYC coordinator.

Originally developed to support an Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention program, the guide is now a nationally-recognized tool to combat underage drinking, Rollins noted. She added that the guide describes an array of flexible options that allow the process to be adapted to local situations.

The project was conducted as a collaboration between the SFGYC, the Harrisonburg Police Department and the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office. “Buyers” who were older than 21 but looked younger were recruited and trained on how to record important observations, use scripted lines, and ensure personal safety while conducting the survey. The “buyers” entered retail establishments that sell off-premises alcohol and attempted to purchase it.

“The buyers were reassured that their purpose was not to trick retailers, but rather, to try to gauge their willingness to sell alcohol without verifying age with a proper ID,” Rollins said.

Retailers involved in the survey recently learned their results by mail and were encouraged to discuss them with staff while helping them learn about other key strategies for preventing illegal alcohol sales.


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