SALISBURY — Marte-L's Convenience Store will lose its liquor license for 60 days later this year as a result of employees selling to a teenager.
The town Liquor Licensing Commission voted unanimously Thursday night to hand down the suspension after reviewing the latest incident of employees selling liquor to a minor at the Toll Road business.
The suspension period will begin Nov. 1 and extend through the end of the year, including New Year's Eve. During the suspension, Marte-L's must remove alcoholic beverages from its shelves, but may remain open to sell nonalcoholic items in its store, commissioners ruled.
The 60-day suspension is one of the most severe ever handed down by the seven-member commission. It came after a public hearing during which a number of commissioners expressed their frustration with Marte-L's for its continued failure to follow the law. The business is owned by Krishana Corp. and managed by Devyani Patel.
Commissioner John Guerin warned Patel's attorney, Mark Janos of Newburyport, to tell his client that another violation could be the business's last.
"If this comes up again, we'll be looking for (license) revocation," Guerin said.
Marte-L's has a history of selling to minors, racking up eight violations since 2001. Janos qualified the number, saying this was the third incident since the business was sold in October 2008. Its last infraction resulted in a 30-day suspension served in March 2009. There were five incidents under a previous owner between 2001 and 2008, Janos said.
The most recent infraction occurred Friday, Sept. 2, during a compliance check by Salisbury police, when the store sold alcohol to an 18-year-old male from Manchester, N.H.
Detective Sgt. Anthony King said two Salisbury officers were observing Marte-L's when a young-looking male rode up to the store on a motorcycle, went in and came out after purchasing alcohol. He remained in the parking lot until a 16-year-old Newburyport girl drove into the parking lot. The young man then gave the alcohol he had purchased to the girl.
When questioned, the 18-year-old told police he hadn't been asked for an ID by the clerk to prove he was at least 21, the legal drinking age. He also told police he had been buying alcohol at Marte-L's and two other Salisbury stores for about two months and had never been carded.
Janos countered that a young clerk at Marte-L's claimed that when the 18-year-old male first visited Marte-L's weeks earlier to purchase alcohol, he had produced a military ID and a Georgia driver's license, both of which indicated he was at least 21 years old. Except for Sept. 2, every other time the young man patronized Marte-L's, he had the ID on him, Janos said.
Questioned by the commissioners, the clerk, whose name was inaudible, said he doesn't really work at Marte-L's, but is visiting his relatives who run the store and simply helps out, unpaid, occasionally.
The clerk said he happened to be "helping out" at Marte-L's whenever the 18-year-old came in to buy alcohol, and he had previously inspected the 18-year-old's military ID. He blamed "bad luck" on the fact the 18-year-old did not have his military ID on him the night the police were checking and insisted he didn't check that night because he was familiar with the buyer.
But according to King, the 18-year-old didn't have a military ID.
The clerk's defense didn't deter commissioners from railing against the methods of operation at Marte-L's and the poor training offered to those working or helping out at the store.
Commissioner Kelly Richenburg suggested the commission insist Patel be present at the store more consistently to ensure employees handle things properly. In addition, Richenburg was uncomfortable that an untrained person who isn't an employee is selling alcohol there.
Two other businesses also faced public hearings for liquor law infractions Thursday night.
David Touma, the new owner of Express Food Mart, at 4-D Plaza at 183 North End Blvd., told commissioners his clerk admitted having a bad day and not checking proof of age when a 19-year-old girl, working with Salisbury police on a sting operation, purchased alcohol on Aug. 19. The food mart has been open only since Memorial Day and licensed to sell alcohol since July 4.
Commissioners voted unanimously to send a formal warning to Touma since it was his first offense and the store was new, but they required no other disciplinary measure.
And commissioners found All-American Tavern had not over-served two customers despite police being called to the Bridge Road restaurant Sept. 1 after an inebriated patron assaulted an employee.
According to King, when officers responded to the 911 call, they found two people who were glassy-eyed, unsteady on their feet and smelling heavily of alcohol, obviously under the influence. The woman had assaulted the employee outside the restaurant and was belligerent with police. Her male companion told police that during dinner at the restaurant, he'd consumed two beers, two shots and two mixed drinks before being asked to leave because a customer complained about his language.
Tavern owner Mary Ann Chambers disagreed, claiming the man ordered one beer with a vodka shot and the woman only ordered a ginger ale and a glass of wine she never finished. However, Chambers couldn't produce proof of a receipt. She said it was tossed away because it was a cash sale.
Chambers also said after the dishes were cleared and police had left, dishwashers found a "broken capsule" of some sort on the woman's plate. Chambers did not save the capsule, nor were police informed of the find.
No action was taken against All-American Tavern.