For the past few years, the Orange Partnership for Alcohol and Drug Free Youth has presented the Responsible Alcohol Seller Award to a local business that has gone above and beyond to do its part in reducing access to alcohol by teens and underage community members. These efforts often include requesting IDs at the time of purchase of alcohol and training employees on policies and methods for deterring underage sales.
This year, the coalition was so impressed with the work of local businesses that it chose for the first time to honor two companies: Food Lion No. 198; and Pueblo Viejo. The awards presentations were held Nov. 17 in two separate events at the store locations.
Gayane Chambless, who is program director for the coalition, said honoring two companies was the best thing to do given the level of commitment shown by the two companies, particularly during the pandemic.
“The restaurants were so responsive,” Chambless said. “They wanted to get guidelines from Alcohol Law Enforcement (ALE), learn what are the best practices in a pandemic world. I shared that with the coalition and they were, like, you know, it’s been so hard on the businesses, yet here they are wanting to make sure they are implementing best practices. The coalition members were so impressed that they put public health above revenue.”
Pueblo Viejo frequently reached out to the Orange Partnership for Alcohol Drug Free Youth for assistance on training new employees and creating new policies. The restaurant was recognized for its “commitment to do this right and keep the community safe, especially our youths.”
Food Lion No. 198 was chosen because of changes the store made after failing a compliance check in 2018 as a result of inconsistent ID checks. The company’s policy requires ID checks for anyone who appears under 40 years of age. Food Lion went further and had its Customer Service Manager approve alcohol sales. The result has been highly effective in its work to end alcohol sales to minors.
The Orange Partnership has been working in some shape or form as a community coalition since 2008. The organization was borne out of an initiative from the Orange County Health Department from their community health assessment that identified underage drinking was happening.
“One of the things that was noted was access was so easy,” said Chambless. “When we started looking at that — in 2011 and 2012 — we found that only about 30 percent of the stores in Hillsborough were actually checking IDs. That made us aware of how easy that access is. We first shared that information with the businesses themselves. What we saw was perhaps they needed staff training or a closer look at policies. We also shared the information with law enforcement and they realized they needed to do more compliance checks. Through those efforts we have since 2014 seen significant increases in checking IDs, especially if someone looks under 40-years-old. The increase now is an average of 97 percent of Hillsborough stores. It’s significant.”
One thing that is certain is once kids know about a store that doesn’t check IDs, word spreads quickly. By partnering with businesses to help create consistency for checking IDs, the sale of alcohol to minors declined significantly. The Orange Partnership wanted to recognize companies for their efforts.
“The businesses often don’t hear about the good they are doing,” Chambless said. “They often only hear people complaining. Truth is, the majority of people really do appreciate what the stores are doing. There are community members who have gone into stores to thank them. But we wanted to recognize those businesses in a more public way. Not just though the coalition. We talked with Mayor Tom Stephens at the time and they were very much on board with the recognition efforts. Hillsborough Police Chief Duane Hampton, Mayor Weaver, the commissioners — they’ve all been very supportive of these efforts and recognize that it creates a healthier community for our kids.”
The pandemic has placed added emphasis on the role of the coalition. While sales at restaurants and bars has been greatly cut, data collected by the Orange Partnership has shown alcohol sales — not including wine and beer — has increased in Orange County by more than 40 percent from March to October this year.
The increase in alcohol at home coupled with middle schoolers and high schoolers being at home for virtual learning has created a different kind of challenge.
“The increase of what’s in the home is a concern,” Chambless adds. “We have been doing some surveys and the preliminary data is showing that its is significantly easier for them to access alcohol. Not enough is being done to secure alcohol in the home. How do you lock it up? Well, you’ve got the liquor cabinet, but what about the beer? Most kids might not drink wine, but they might. When parents are having to work inside or outside the home with middle school and high schoolers who are home learning virtually, if the parents aren’t home monitoring, it’s even more important to secure that.”
One unexpected way businesses are benefitting from the pandemic has been the wearing of face coverings. Chambless said the masks have made it easier to avoid the guesswork and simply require a show of IDs from everyone purchasing alcohol.
“There’s no guessing for the clerks. It’s hard and it’s often a judgement call. It really is best practice to just check IDs regardless of age. It reduces the store’s potential liability,” she said.