Fall months typically see a spike in underage alcohol offenses around campus and in bars downtown.
Fall months typically see a spike in underage alcohol offenses around campus and in bars downtown. But an Oregon Liquor Control Commission report shows that Ashland bars have been largely successful in deterring underage drinking.
The early October compliance check of 18 alcohol-distributing businesses in Ashland yielded just two violations, neither of which were issued to bars.
The OLCC conducts random alcohol sales checks throughout the year. Young volunteers, typically around 18 years old, enter an establishment and attempt to buy alcohol. If asked to give identification, the volunteer offers his or her real ID, which shows the individual as underage. The test is held to ensure servers examine the card thoroughly and deny any sale of alcohol. If not, that vendor receives a visit from an OLCC officer waiting outside.
Albertson's and Minute Market No. 6 were cited for failing their compliance checks. The employees who sold the beverages were cited individually for furnishing alcohol to a minor, and must appear in court.
OLCC Minor Prevention Specialist Jon Rhodes said the burden of responsibility lies with owners, who handle multiple duties and cannot be everywhere at once. Still, failing to monitor checkout aisles and bar counters can result in a hefty fine, despite the best intentions of businesses.
"It's tough," said Rhodes. "The owners need to train their people to check for IDs. They can't just make hires and assume people will know."
Rhodes coordinates the checks throughout Southern Oregon. Not all establishments are covered in a given compliance check. But state law requires any establishment that serves alcohol to be checked at least once in a given year.
Numbers from the most recent survey suggest bar employees are staying alert — a cause for celebration, Rhodes says, because fall season usually sees the highest rate of underage drinking incidents.
"There can be an increase come late September or early October," he said. "A lot of new freshmen, some of which bring their fresh cut fake IDs."
Preventing the use of fraudulent IDs is difficult, Rhodes said, because many new students bring IDs from out of the state.
Ten establishments from the October test are classified as bars — each of which passed their compliance test. Among those examined was Louie's Bar and Grill, located downtown.
Melissa Jensen, owner of Louie's, calls her establishment an "SOU bar," noting its favor among students at Southern Oregon University. She said she knows the challenges bar owners face in preventing the acquisition of alcohol by minors.
"We work very closely with the OLCC and the Ashland Police Department," Jensen said. "It's something I take very seriously."
Jensen employs two bouncers to filter the crowd on busy nights. She says both she and her bouncers will soon attend a workshop run by the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training to better control busy crowds and keep her patrons safe.
The training should come to good use, with holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas approaching, occasions that traditionally bring hundreds of residents to the plaza downtown. If the recent Halloween weekend serves as an indication, Jensen could have her hands full.
"I rely heavily on the integrity of my nighttime workers," she said, adding that she cannot always be there to monitor the situation at her business. Still, Jensen, a mother of three, impresses her values on employees when the matter is as serious as underage drinking.
"We need to keep our children safe," she said. "That is so important to me."
Rhodes with OLCC said the precautions owners like Jensen are taking, such as employee training and security increases, go a long way toward ensuring a safe environment for patrons. He understands employers can't spend every minute looking after their stores. But he added owners must ultimately take responsibility for their workers' mistakes — or face the punishment for failing to do so.
"Sadly, the owners of some bars and businesses decide they don't need to be there at all," he said. "They are taking a blind leap of faith."