Published in the August 27, 2015 edition
By BOB TUROSZ
NORTH READING — Eastgate Liquors will not appeal the Selectmen’s decision to suspend the store’s license for three days for a sales infraction that took place last March but the experience may spark a re–examination of the Board’ s long standing one–size–fits–all policy for liquor sales infractions.
Eastgate was one of three local establishments charged with selling beer to a minor in a compliance check by the North Reading Police Department last March. The other two establishments, both convenience stores, eventually accepted three–day suspensions of their beer and wine licenses, but Eastgate, after losing a decision before the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, (ABCC), seriously considered appealing to Middlesex Superior Court, which the law allows.
Monday night, Eastgate owner John Lucci told the Selectmen Eastgate would not appeal and would accept the three–day suspension on Sept. 10, 11 and 12. But Lucci also saw inequity in the Selectmen’s three–day suspension policy because it equates convenience stores, which can stay open and sell everything except beer and wine, with a large package store like Eastgate, which will have to close for the three days.
Lucci compared the situation to the criticism of “mandatory minimum sentences” in the legal system, which he said reminds him of this violation.
“I don’t think there’s a level playing field because of the four type of (liquor) licenses North Reading has,” Lucci said. If Eastgate were to close for three days their employees will not be working, he said.
Eastgate has a “great track record” of only two violations in 30 years and will accept the board’s decision and won’t appeal to Superior Court, he added.
Lucci said Eastgate runs on a “high volume, low margin” business philosophy started by his father in 1971 and he developed it like the supermarket business.
“That’s the problem we’re having with the three day suspension. All of our employees are TIPS trained so they don’t sell to minors,” but a mistake happened in March, he said.
“Taking Eastgate’s license will close them for three days, unlike the others who had violations the same evening” and lost about $2,100 in sales. “Eastgate’s loss will be 27 times that, it’s like going to jail for 21 days or 2700 days, that’s the difference. That’s a tough pill to swallow for a high volume, low margin business.”
Scott Conrad, 4 Summer St., said he feels it’s unfair how restaurants in town are treated differently from stores like Eastgate. Generally, people don’t drink in liquor stores, they drink in restaurants which aren’t held to the same level as liquor stores.
The Board’s vote to reinstate Eastgate’s three–day suspension was unanimous, but member Stephen O’Leary said he sees some merit to Lucci’s point that “progressive discipline” for different types of establishments.
While the board has a responsibility to public safety and to supprt the police department’s efforts, the fairness issue may be worth a discussion at a future date, he said.